Referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV)

I don?t believe their argument so why will I still vote no?

As one of the few members of British Conservatives in Paris who is allowed to vote in next month?s referendum, I have looked at all the arguments with attention. The principal one expressed in the Conservative No to AV campaign is that AV is an unfair system that gives some people more votes than others. But does it? Certainly not in my view.
The way the AV system works is that voters rank the candidates in order of their preference. So in the first count, the equivalent to the first round in French elections, everybody?s vote is counted once. If one candidate has more than 50% of the votes, he is elected just as he would be under the current first-past-the post system. If no candidate achieves that, then the candidate with least votes is eliminated and his votes are allocated to the second preference of his voters. Is that unfair, does it mean that that his supporters have voted twice while supporters of the other candidates can only vote once?
I do not think so. In the second round, votes from every elector, except those who voted for the eliminated candidate and did not express any further preferences, are counted. So every elector who wishes votes in the second round and all their votes are counted. The effect is just like the second round of an election in France, where those whose first choice is still in contention vote, presumably, for that candidate again and those who first choice did not get through to the second round have to chose someone else. Is that unfair, does it give the latter voters more votes than the former?
Of course the differences between the proposed AV system and the second round system used here, is that in France there are only two rounds and, in between them, there is a period for further campaigning and for the negotiation of electoral pacts. In the UK under AV the electoral rounds continue, with the lowest scoring candidate being eliminated each time, until one candidate has secured at least 50% of the votes still being cast. It seems to me that one could make out a good case for arguing that the AV system proposed for the UK would be fairer and better than the two round system used here, in that the results would be known more quickly and the electors under AV would get more choice.
What could be regarded as unfair is the fact that, under the present system, unless one votes in a marginal constituency, one?s vote is, effectively, wasted. I could vote Conservative in a constituency like Bolsover, and a Labour supporter could vote where I lived in Esher and Walton, but in either case we might just as well have stayed at home. AV would resolve that.
But I will, even so, vote no. Why?
Well I have to admit that there are other arguments advanced by the no campaign that have more validity than the one discussed above. There is the expense, although one could argue that democracy is above price. There is the delay in obtaining the result; that of course could be obviated by the use of electronic voting terminals, but American voters, at least in the State of Ohio, have learned the disadvantages of that.
I will vote no for a different reason, and one that I am disappointed, although not at all surprised, to find ignored on the No to AV website. Those who vote yes, will be voting for a step into the unknown. We do not know how the AV system would work out in practice. We do not know whether it would result in a more, or a less, proportional election result; I have seen both argued. We do not know which party would benefit, whether it would be the Conservatives, Labour or Lib Dem. We do not know whether it would give us better or worse governments. But were the country to vote yes, it would probably be an irrevocable step. MPs elected under such a new system and owing their seats to it, are most unlikely to agree to revert to the former one even if the country in general thought the results a disaster.
Had we been offered the chance to vote for a change to AV with the assurance that, after two AV general elections, there would be a second referendum giving us the opportunity of returning to first-past-the-post, I would have voted yes. And sometimes I wonder if that is why we were not given that option.

Robin Baker

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