Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Alternative Vote #3: The Benefits of AV

A piece by an Economics DPhil student at Nuffield College, Oxford University, who is volunteering for the Yes Campaign.

Why should we adopt AV?  The current voting system is broken.  
  • IPPR research shows that the last election was decided by 1.6% of voters in marginal constituencies.  
  • Polling indicates that 19% of voters have found themselves voting tactically.  
  • At the last election, less than 1/3 of MPs got the support of a majority of their constituents and around a quarter of voters voted for candidates who were neither winners nor runners up.
  • Turnout has fallen lower than 60% and, across constituencies, has been negatively correlated with the size of MP’s majorities (see graph).  

These are not the signs of a healthy democracy.

AV will represent a dramatic improvement.  Under AV voters give more information.  Rather than putting a mark beside the name of one candidate, they rank the candidates putting a ‘1’ next to their first choice, ‘2’ next to their second choice and so on.  The election then proceeds through a series of rounds, at the end of each round the candidate with the least votes is eliminated.  In each round of the election your ballot paper counts as a vote for your most preferred candidate who has not yet been eliminated.  The process ends when one candidate has achieved 50% of the vote.
  • MPs will have to get the support of a majority of their constituents. 
  • Many seats will become a lot more competitive ensuring politicians have to pay attention to more voters than those who live in a handful of “key marginals”.  
  • AV will practically eliminate the incentive to vote tactically, allowing voters to support their best candidate without risk of gifting the seat to their worst candidate.  
  • By making more constituencies more competitive, it will increase the incentive to vote and help to boost turnout.

The main argument against electoral reform being used by the No campaign is the kind of lie that would make Phil Woolas blush!  They claim it is too expensive.  I won’t repeat their figure as this line of argument is an exercise in repeating a lie so many times that it becomes true.  However, it is worth remembering three things:
  • 52% of their cost figure comes from new voting machines.  There won’t be any new voting machines.  AV can and will be counted by hand – that’s what they’ve been doing in Australia since 1919.
  • 37% of their cost figure comes from the cost of the referendum itself.  That won’t be refunded in the event of a no vote.
  • What is left of their initial figure for the “one-off” cost of AV is 22% of the regular cost of holding an election.  As far as I’m aware, the No campaign haven’t suggested cancelling elections because they’re too expensive...  yet.

    The Alternative Vote is a small, simple, smart change that will make a big difference to improve our democracy.  MPs will have to reach beyond their traditional support in order to get elected.  The culture of jobs for life that has made MPs so complacent will be brought to an end.  The number of safe seats will fall and political parties will have to pay attention to the needs of more of the country rather than a few key marginals.  We must seize this once in a generation chance to reform our voting system and reinvigorate our democracy.

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