Why vote yes to AV?


I didn’t listen to Today on BBC Radio 4 last Wednesday and hear Mark Borkowski’s reported comment that the Alternative Vote (AV), on which we have a referendum on May 5, has created "a great yawn across the nation."

Yet that reported comment sums it all up for me.

Another leaflet came through the letterbox this morning, with another promotional message urging me to vote ‘No.’ As with the two previous leaflets I’ve received, this one was from the NOtoAV campaign. I’ve yet to hear directly from anyone with any message urging me to vote ‘Yes.’

In fact, I’ve not really seen much about the alternative vote proposals at all, whether pro or con. Where’s the debate? The interesting discussions? Isn’t this an important matter? What I have seen, like the leaflets I mentioned, is largely eyebrow-raising in its subjectivity and political rhetoric. It seems to me that the only people who care are some of the politicians and party-political activists.

Subjectivity aside, what I have focused on are these three points about the present first-past-the-post system of electing our representatives:

  1. You vote.
  2. Your vote is counted.
  3. The candidate with the most votes wins.

Seems simple to me. Is it perfect? Undoubtedly not. Yet I haven’t seen a compelling, genuine argument from anyone to suggest why I should vote against it on May 5.

For a skeptical voter like me on a topic like this, why should I even give a damn? Anyone care to present three genuine points to counter the ones above?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tom Waddell


    1) You cast your vote by ranking in order of preference

    2) the votes are counted

    3) the candidate who is preferred by the majority (over 50%) of voters wins

    The FPTP system

    1) forces voters to guess who might win and then vote accordingly

    2) allows politicians to write off parts of constituencies and focus on their heartlands

    3) does not work when there is more than 2 choices.

    The AV system

    1) allows voters to be honest

    2) works however many candidates there are

    3) forces candidates to reach out to as many of their constituents as possible… since a second or third preference might be crucial.

    Neither system is perfect… but AV makes the politicians really work to get everyone’s vote, and puts the power back where it should be – with the people

  2. neville

    Thanks Tom, appreciate your assessment. If only it were as simple as you suggest! You make it sound as though FPTP is a dishonest voter-disenfranchising system with AV as the path to actual democracy. I don’t know whether that was your intention, but I don’t believe it for a second.

    Trying to find some truly objective comparisons is proving to be quite difficult. The most compelling text I’ve found in the past few days is an analysis in this week’s Economist. This paragraph jumps out from their report:

    […] Many of the mud-slinging claims of both camps, though, fall apart under scrutiny. Modelling data from previous elections, the New Economics Foundation, a think-tank, suggests that AV would merely trim the number of safe seats, so that 16% rather than 13% would change hands at a typical election. For all the Yes camp’s talk of fairness, the 1998 Jenkins commission on electoral reform concluded that, in a landslide election, AV exaggerates the swing to the winning party: in 1997, Labour would have won 452 seats rather than 419. Nor would AV eliminate tactical voting. AV allows supporters of small or fringe parties to cast a first-preference vote for their favoured candidate, confident that their second preference will probably be in play and hence a matter for tactics.

    It seems to me that what’s being proposed to replace the current system on which we will vote on May 5 offers very little that betters our electoral processes and so, for me, is not a valid enough reason to change.

    • Tom Waddell

      fair enough maybe it does come across that way, but that is what happens when you try and express it as simple one liners.

      AV does have its problems, but in the end of the day it is a system that is essentially FAIRER than FPTP. Every system can produce screwy results (FPTP fans don’t seem to like to talk about the 1951 general election when Churchill’s Tory party won a small majority of seats despite Attlee’s Labour party getting MORE votes [13,717,850 vs 13,948,385]).

      In a way the big difference comes down to tactical voting. This skews a bit the Blair landside of 1997… that election saw a higher amount of tactical voting than we have seen before or since. trying to translate that one into an AV scenario is rife with problems since the voting behaviour under AV would have been radically different.

      AV is a commonsense system that we all use without realising it a lot of the time.

      The history of voting reform in the UK is full of small steps… look how long it took to get rid of rotten boroughs etc etc. Up to the middle of the twentieth century we did not even have OMOV (or rather OPOV) as the university seats gave some people more than one vote. Remember Lao-Tzu… the longest journey begins with a single step.

      I’ll happily withdraw the charge of dishonesty, but cannot and will not withdraw the charge of voter disenfranchisement or of AV being a step to better our democracy.

      Have a look at Dan Snow’s videos on You-tube- he offers some good examples of AV as well as putting the referendum in a historical context.

  3. Passer-by

    I don’t know exactly where I stand on this, so I guess you could call me somewhat objective.

    I would say that AV gives a slight advantage to the politically inclined as people are not forced to give second, third preference. Most people that do not get heavily involved would probably still only vote for their main party. (Though I assume LibDem voters would be more likely to give a second preference of Lab/Tory). Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate, I believe it is.

    AV also helps smaller parties by allowing people to cast a vote for them without “wasting” their vote (by having a 2nd/3rd preference vote for a bigger party). This is more likely to encourage people to vote for candidates from outside the traditional big parties in their constituency. On the other hand, that would mean a potentially more difficult situation in parliament as you would have more political groups to get to back a new govt.

    FPTP will encourage fewer parties and clearer election results, while AV will encourage more parties and also allow people to more clearly state their real preference — by having people give their 1st priority vote to a party even though they do not believe their candidate to win (LibDem voters in Lab/Tory const. voting Lab or Tory instead, for example).

    In sum, I believe AV is slightly more democratic, but I am not sure if it’s better for the country. In general, if you don’t think the current system is broken and don’t believe AV would be better, I’d be inclined to vote no.

    • neville

      Thanks, Passer-by. You summed it up for me:

      I believe AV is slightly more democratic, but I am not sure if it’s better for the country. In general, if you don’t think the current system is broken and don’t believe AV would be better, I’d be inclined to vote no.

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