As I’m watching the news once again in the morning, an item talking about the AV referendum appears. However, despite the many campaigns that have gone on both in favour of and against the change, it seems that may people are still unaware of it happening or unsure of what it means. Hopefully, in this blog I can begin to explain what it is and why it’s happening, to clue up many of the readers.
On the 5th May, there will be a vote or a ‘referendum’ across the country to decide whether or not we should scrap our current ‘First-Past-The-Post’(FPTP) voting system and replace it with the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV). In our current voting system, everyone gets one vote only. You put an ‘X’ next to the single candidate you are supporting, and the candidate with the most votes win.
In the Alternate Voting system, instead of using an ‘X’, voters rank candidates in order of preference using 1,2,3 and so on – however, if a voter wishes to vote for only one, they still can – they can ‘rank’ as many or as few as they want. If one candidate has more than 50% of the ‘first choice’ votes, then they are elected. If this doesn’t happen, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and these votes are re-allocated to their second preferences. For example, if a voter chooses Yellow Candidate, Blue Candidate and then Green Candidate, and then Yellow Candidate was eliminated, this voter’s vote would go to Blue Candidate.
If still no candidate has 50% of the votes, the next lowest candidate is eliminated and their votes re-allocated. For example, if Blue Candidate was eliminated, any voter with Blue Candidate as their first choice would have their votes re-allocated to their second preference, like in the first example. But if Blue Candidate was a voter’s second choice, then that voter’s vote is re-allocated to their third preference. If we re-use first example, that vote would then go to Green Candidate. However if a voter has no candidates left in the running, the vote is no longer counted. To use again our first voter, if Green Candidate is eliminated next, then this voter’s vote would no longer be counted. This process continues until one candidate has over 50% of the remaining votes.
Although the AV system seems much more complicated, it promises ‘a fairer vote’ according to supporters. With the current system, it can mean that a candidate wins with a minority of the vote whereas AV will only allow an overall majority to win: supposedly making sure that the real preferred party is elected. However, at least with the FPTP system everybody’s vote is counted – with the AV system, if your vote no longer applies to any candidate still in the running, it is entirely ignored. The AV system has said that it will stop extremism and that ‘For extremists AV is a brick wall’ as they are unlikely to get the majority of the vote. However, this seems to me that it restricts both the freedom to choose and the freedom to speech. The current system allows a range of opinions and voices to be vocalised in Parliament. I fear that if the AV system is followed through, it will stifle these small but valued ideas. Looking at both the support for and against campaigns for the change, it seems that the argument against is a lot stronger. During a hard economic period, it seems irresponsible to spend millions of pounds on a system that might not even work for us: with all the budget cuts, it’s a waste of the small amount of money we do have. This system also allows the party without the most first preference votes to win. David Cameron, PM, says that “AV is an unfair, expensive and discredited system, that allows candidates who finish third to steal elections”. As well as this, First Past The Post system is used widely around the world, whereas AV is used in only three countries: Fiji, Papa New Guinea and Australia – and in Australia 6 out of 10 people want to get rid of it anyway.
So why are we having it? The referendum was something the Liberal Democrats wanted as part of the agreement to form a coalition with the Conservatives. This push for the vote seems to be in retaliation to the accusations of false and broken promises. However the Conservatives will campaign for a ‘No’ vote and the Liberal Democrats will campaign for a ‘Yes’ – we shall just have to wait to see in whose favour the vote will swing.