No to AV – another opinion post

For the past few weeks we have been subject to a lot of campaigning about AV – the alternative vote. Despite this, very few people I speak to actually know what AV is or how it works. This means that when there is a referendum on the 6th May to decide whether to adopt AV, many people will vote blindly. This can not be good. Most of the blame for this apparent ignorance can be apportioned to the yes and no campaigns, who – instead of making their own cases – have resorted to slandering the opposition. So, what is AV – really?

AV is an electoral system that differs from the current one in the UK – first-past-the-post (FPTP). To understand AV, you must first understand what we’ve already got. In FPTP there is one round of voting in which the electorate marks their preferred candidate with a cross. The winner is the one with the most votes. Simple. However many argue that this system has a fatal flaw – a party can win with, say, 20% of the vote, meaning that 80% of people did not vote for them? What, one might argue, kind of democracy is that?

That’s where AV comes in. For a party to claim victory under this system, they must have a majority, i.e. 50% of the vote or more. Instead of putting a cross against their preferred candidate, under AV they rank them in order of preference. When the votes are counted the first preferences are tallied first. If one party has more than 50% of the vote, they are the winners. If however, as so often happens, no party has a majority, the party with the least votes is eliminated and the second choice of those who voted for it are distributed among the remaining parties. This continues until a party reaches the 50% threshold or no more votes can be distributed. Yeah, it’s complicated.

And that’s the problem, even if you understand the system, it is hard to envisage its consequences. In reality, AV can lead to a government of second choices. Think about it in this scenario:
When the first preferences are counted, Labour has 30%, the Conservatives have 35%, the Liberal Democrats have 27% and the Greens have 5%. No one has a majority, so the Greens are eliminated and their second votes are distributed. Now let’s say that supporters of the Green Party also like the Lib Dems and all their second votes go to them. Labour still has 30%, the Conservatives still have 35%, but the Lib Dems have 32% – putting them in front of Labour, who are then eliminated. So now, even though the Lib Dems came 3rd, they are 2nd. Wait, what?
It continues – the second votes of Labour supporters and the third of Green supporters are distributed. Now, it’s quite obvious that if someone has voted for Labour, their second vote will not go to the Tories, but the Lib Dems, who now have a stagering 62% of  votes. Therefore it is the Lib Dems who form the government, even though they did not really ‘win’ the election. Now that, my friends, really isn’t democracy and that’s why I say no to AV.

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