Warning this post may contain politics – My guide to the AV vote.

This is my attempt to make the vote on the voting system easy. I know, talk about giving myself a task.

But for all my sins politics is something I sadly care about. I almost wish I didn’t. I wish I could label it under “I can’t change this” and put it in the “it doesn’t effect me drawer” but I can and it does.

So. What is all the fuss about this May 5th?

We, the public, are being asked whether we want to replace the existing first-past-the-post voting system to a method known as the alternative vote (AV).

The what for the what now? You may wonder.

Well, first-past-the-post, is what it says really. The candidate who gets the most votes in their constituency is elected as the MP. Sounds simple and like it makes sense doesn’t it? Alas this is politics. And it isn’t. The best way I can explain it is as follows:

Take Chichester and Liverpool (just because two areas I was registered in last year – home and away.)

Say there was an election, and the results were as follows:

Chichester:

Pigs:45%
Chickens:35%
Sheep: 10%
Cows:6%
Mice: 4%

Bognor:

Cows:45%
Chickens:35%
Sheep: 10%
Pigs:6%
Mice: 4%

So pigs and cows win, by first past the post. Despite chickens getting 70% in total, compared to pigs:51% and cows:51%

This is something I noticed as I stayed up until the early hours to watch the count come in. The percentage of votes and the percentage of seats didn’t tally at all. Second place counted for nothing, regardless of how closely they had been “pipped to the post.”

However, then there is AV.

The AV system asks voters to rank candidates in order of preference. People can nominate as many preferences as they like, listing them numerically in line to how much they like them.

To begin with only the names marked as people’s first choice, with 1s next to them, are counted. If this reveals one party has more than 50% of the votes they are elected automatically. If that doesn’t happen, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choices allocated to the remaining candidates in a second round of counting. For instance in my farmyard example above the vote cards for people who put Mice as number 1 will then have their number 2 vote cast. If one candidate then has more than 50% of the votes in this round they are elected. If not, the remaining candidate (in this case cows in Liverpool or pigs in Bognor) with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second preferences (or third preferences if they were the second choice of someone who voted for the first candidate to be eliminated) are reallocated. This continues until one candidate has 50% or more of the vote in that round of counting, or there are no more votes to be distributed.

It sounds a bit complicated doesn’t it? But as far as I can see it is just about making votes count, which isn’t a bad thing! And it maximises the say voters can have. Many of us live in areas that are dominated by one party and as a result will see no real point in turning out to the polls. However the AV system means that party will have to work harder and win by more to keep it’s seat. In fact many people have admitted they voted tactically in the last election to “mess it up” and cause a “hung government” something that, strictly speaking, the first-past-the-post-system should prevent.

What do pro-AV campaigners say?

They argue that too many votes are effectively wasted under the current system, with elections decided by a small number of voters in a handful of seats where no single party has a large majority. This discourages people from voting, they say. A key weakness of first-past-the-post, they say, is that two-thirds of MPs are now elected with less than 50% of support of voters and that this undermines democracy and reduces the legitimacy of MPs. They say candidates will have to work harder for votes and reach out to a broader cross-section of the electorate.

And what are the arguments for keeping first-past-the-post?

Anti-AV campaigners say the current system generally leads to stable government and has historically reflected the will of the public, in that unpopular governments have been voted out. They argue that first-past-the-post is straightforward and easy to understand. They say parties get elected on a manifesto and are expected to implement it, while, under other systems more likely to produce indecisive outcomes, the government is decided after the election by horse-trading and political fixes with manifesto pledges being ditched and promises broken.

The bottom line? Read, research, question and vote!

It doesn’t matter to me if you vote for change or vote for it to stay the same

What matters is, for the first time, we have been given a say on changing the way we do politics in this country. We may not get asked again. On Thursday the choice is simple: if you’re happy with business as usual at Westminster, vote No. If you want to change politics for the better, vote Yes. But please, just vote.

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