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"Why I think You should vote Yes to AV"

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Tue 03/05/11 at 20:54
Regular
"Peace Respect Punk"
Posts: 8,069
Reading the press surrounding the AV referendum coming on May 5th (just two days away), it struck me that lots of people, including Cameron himself in an Evening Standard opinion piece, were making very bold claims about the pros and cons of the Alternative Vote system. However, very few of these claims are ever backed up by a reasoned argument as to why they hold true – people just seem to prefer making bold, headline-grabbing statements like 'AV will give extremists more say!!!' without stopping to try to show anyone why that is (or isn't) the case. Anyway, my two cents is that First Past The Post is a fundamentally undemocratic system and we should get rid of it. Alternative Vote is an improvement, but it's certainly not perfect. However, if the UK says No to AV, I suspect we will not get another chance to have any sort of say regarding how our politicians get elected in our lifetime. A Yes vote will, hopefully, open the floodgates for more reform and a more democratic system. And this referendum is probably more important than any General Election, because what's the point in a General Election when the system we use is already unfair and undemocratic?

In an attempt to keep things shorter, I'm going to post raw arguments first, and at the bottom include more reasoning / examples / links for further reading if you care that much / don't trust me. So if you think I'm talking rubbish on any given point check out the bottom for more detail to either confirm your suspicions or prove you wrong.

What's wrong with our current system (First Past the Post / FPTP)?

1 - First Past The Post allows a party to win who DID NOT get the most votes!

The simple reason for this is that votes don't actually matter when it comes to forming a government – seats in the House of Commons matter. At a Constituency level, the MP with the most votes will always get elected to the House of Commons. But at a national level, a party could get the most votes out of all the parties, yet still secure less seats than another party. This also means a party who came second in terms of votes at a National level can obtain an overall majority in the House of Commons (meaning they have over 50% of seats and they can pretty much push through all legislation). No to AV voters like to bang on about the 'second place' candidate winning, but don't like to mention that under FPTP the 'second place' party can actually get the most seats.

2 – Under FPTP all votes are NOT equal!

If this isn't already evident from point 1 above, then consider that each constituency has just one MP to represent it. Then consider that every constituency is defined purely in geographical terms, so the population of each constituency is different. If you live in a constituency with less people, you're vote has more effect on which candidate (and which party) gets elected than someone in a constituency with more people living there. So people living in densely populated constituencies effectively have 'less important' votes. Also, all MPs carry equal weight in the House of Commons. An MP who scrapes through and just secures victory in a constituency with relatively few voters carries just as much weight as one who wins every single vote in a constituency with a larger number of voters. As Vin Diesel would say “It doesn't matter if you win by a second or a mile, winning is winning!” - All well and good if you're partaking in illegal street races, but I'd argue that in the context of a National Election, the margin by which you win should actually be of some importance...

3 – FPTP encourages 'Tactical Voting' and encourages people to only vote for one of the 'Big Three' parties!

I've heard many times that candidates should be honest and principled and not 'chase' second-preference votes. I don't understand why it's meant to be bad for potential MPs to try to appeal to as broad a range of people as possible, after all, they're meant to represent everyone in a constituency, not just those who voted for them. But regardless, MPs try to get second-preference votes already. The difference is that under FPTP we don't actually know who voters really wanted to vote for. This is due to Tactical Voting, the practice of voting for 'the lesser of two evils' – basically voting for Party A to keep Pary B out of power. Every election I get leaflets telling me “Party C can't win here! Vote for us to keep out Party A!”. If this is not chasing second-preference votes, I don't know what is. It's just telling me that there's only two parties in with a shot, so you'd better vote for this party (even though you don't necessarily like them) or you'll get stuck with the even worse alternative. So you have the dilemma of voting for the party you really want, but that no-one believes has any chance of winning (which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – because no-one thinks they can win, people don't vote for them even though they might want to). Or you vote tactically for someone you don't really like (who may be your second, third, fourth, etc. choice) but who might actually keep your least favoured candidate out of power. The graphs that are on these leaflets are usually based on the last elections results, so they tend to concentrate votes and power with those who did well last time around, meaning we're in a perpetual state of voting out Labour and getting the Tories until we're fed up of them again and we get Labour back.

4 – FPTP encourages parties to 'Split the Opposition'

If I've just got to get more votes than anyone else as is the case under FPTP, it's actually in my interest to have two (or more) strong opponents rather than just one. If I've got just one opponent, not only does that opponent get votes from everyone who likes them, they also get votes from everyone who dislikes me. If I have two opponents, the people who hate me are going to be split, not concentrated on my one opponent. This is especially true when you have multiple candidates who appeal to similar voters (eg. many 'left-wing' or 'right-wing' candidates). In America, Ralph Nader (the Green Party candidate) has been accused of allowing Bush to get in during the 2000 Presidential Election by standing against Al Gore and splitting the 'left-wing' vote.


Common Arguments Against Alternative Vote

1 – AV will cost us Millions

For a start, if we're going to argue cost, forget democracy entirely, let's just submit ourselves to an unelected dictator and save the cost of any elections at all. To say we should be more concerned with monetary cost rather than having a better democratic process seems completely ridiculous to me. There have been adverts claiming a Yes vote will lead to babies dying due to maternity wards being cut, and soldiers not having bulletproof vests due to MoD cuts – these are clearly scaremongering at their worst, and the treasury has confirmed the result of the AV referendum will have no impact on it's spending review. However, no-one truly knows if elections under AV will cost more or not – it depends on how people vote, because that determines how many rounds and thus how much counting is necessary. There is likely to be more counting, which is likely to increase the cost somewhat. But the bulk of the £250 million quoted by naysayers is based on introducing Electronic Voting, which has already been ruled out.

2 – AV gives Extremists more Votes

Before addressing this I'd point out that the BNP are one of the only small parties opposing AV, because it requires a party to get 50% of all votes in a round, and a racist, sexist, homophobic party like the BNP will never achieve that. The point about AV is that everyone has one vote, and every vote gets counted once per round (with one caveat). The only time your vote is not counted is if all candidates you voted for have already been eliminated (eg. you voted for only one party and they got the least number of votes in the previous round). This claim of extremists, such as those who vote for the BNP, getting multiple votes seems to be based on some rather tenuous semantics, because a vote for an eliminated candidate is physically counted again (to find out what the next preference candidate is). This doesn't mean they are getting 'another' vote... It's the same vote they had before, it's being moved to another candidate because their first choice has been eliminated. If your first preference candidate has not been eliminated your vote still counts multiple times (once in the first round, once in the second, etc), the only difference being that it's not physically picked up and redistributed, because it's already in the right pile. To claim a BNP voter gets multiple votes is just a lie. Every vote counts once in every round. Yes this does give someone who might usually waste their vote on the BNP a chance to have a say in who actually gets elected, but it also gives everyone else who wants to vote for a smaller party (whether it's the Greens, UKIP, an independent candidate) the chance to do so without excluding them from having a say between the 'big' parties which are likely to win.

3 – AV leads to more Hung Parliaments

A rather ridiculous argument I heard against AV was “Australia has AV and their last election was a Hung Parliament”. Erm, yes, and the UK has FPTP and our last election was a Hung Parliament. So FPTP must be just as bad right...? It's really quite annoying when politicians use a single instrance of an event to 'prove' a point. It's like someone saying a cold day in July disproves Global Warming (or conversely a hot day in February proves it to be true). The argument against AV would probably then go “Ah, but the UK has only had two Hung Parliaments since WWII”. Yes, but so has Australia.

I would suggest we're headed down a road of more Hung Parliaments anyway. The two biggest parties (Conservatives and Labour) are losing ground to Nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales (and Nationalist Parties already dominate Northern Ireland, although some are affiliated with the major UK parties). The Lib Dems are still taking enough seats to be a nuisance to the other two, and even the Green Party won a seat last time. In a democracy with a lot of political parties, hung parliaments are more likely. AV may have some effect on this, but I'm doubtful it will have much swing either way, and I'm highly doubtful anyone can come up with some way to 'prove' AV leads to more Hung Parliaments in the general case. Again, it seems to be blatant scaremongering, although if anyone can give a reasoned argument as to why AV would tend to lead to more Hung Parliaments, I'm all ears. Either way I don't think fear of Hung Parliaments is a good reason to vote against AV – if we want a government that is more representative of the views of the population as a whole, not just the 30-40% who voted for the winner, we should accept that this will lead to more Hung Parliaments and require politicians to work more effectively together.


The bottom line: Why Should We Vote For AV?

For me, the bottom line is that AV seems to be an improvement. A step in the right direction. I'd prefer MPs to have broader support from constituents than they need to at present. I'd much prefer to be able to vote for who I want rather than always being told I'm wasting my vote on a party that can't win. But I know AV isn't perfect by any means. There are nuances to the system, and I could show some examples of voting patterns that lead to results that seem unfair. But I think instances of seemingly unfair results will be less under AV than under FPTP. And I think if the No vote wins, that will be the end of any discussion of electoral reform for a generation. Smaller parties have been clamouring for years for different systems, be they AV, AV+, Single Transferable Vote, Proportional Representation, etc. A Vote for AV might just open the floodgates to reform and we might get a genuine discussion of all the options, and end up with a system decided by the people, not the ruling MPs, many of whom have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The real travesty here is that we are being asked to choose between just two systems. Really we should be asked if we want to keep FPTP, and if the answer is “No” there should be further discussion and voting on what system we should use.

It's worth pointing out that AV does not address all the flaws of FPTP. Specifically points 1 and 2 against FPTP still hold true under AV, since power is still defined by number of seats in the House of Commons, not by number of votes. Again, while these apply to AV as well, I think this referendum is not just about AV, but also about whether we want electoral reform at all. Voting No will likely mean these issues with FPTP are never addressed.

A telling point about the main party opposed to AV, the Conservatives, is that they actually use a system which is very similar to AV when electing their party leader, whereby they have a number of rounds and in each round the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, then everyone votes again until they are left with just two candidates and the final vote takes place. It's not identical (in fact I would suggest it is slightly better than AV, but it's also much more time-consuming) but the similarities are quite obvious and it does make a bit of a mockery of Conservatives saying it's unfair that someone who voted for a loser can vote again, when they do just that to choose their leader. If such a system is good enough for them, it begs the question why don't they want General Elections to be held under a similar system?

Wikipedia - Conservative Party UK Leadership Election 2005


If you want more detail, examples, links etc for any of the points, there's yet more ramblings below (inside the 'Spoiler'):

Show Spoiler
Thu 05/05/11 at 21:03
Moderator
"possibly impossible"
Posts: 24,985
Nin wrote:
pb wrote:
[i]You'd rather the Lib Dems stayed away and let the Conservatives or Labour run the country by themselves?


That was never an option, a majority government couldn't be formed without them.
My anger is that the Libs chose the wrong side to form a government with. [/i]

I believe, despite all the talk at the time, that they'd have a very hard time pushing a Labour/Lib Dem coalition through as there still wouldn't have been enough votes on that side without finding more smaller parties to bolster the numbers.

As for the hypocrisy, welcome to politics. This is what Labour and the Conservatives have done throughout the years. Remember that before they came into power, Labour suddenly became 'New' Labour, and take on some of the Conservative policies they'd previously fought hard against, such as privatization.

That said, it's so ridiculous to have 2 parties to choose from at different (not quite extreme) ends of the political scale, Lib Dems have always provided something of a mix of policies and vision for me that I agreed with. That doesn't mean I agree with what they are coming out with now under the Con-Dems but it increasingly looks like they're stuck between a rock and a hard place in this situation. They are making headway on some non-conservative policies though.
Thu 05/05/11 at 16:47
Regular
"Monochromatic"
Posts: 18,487
So both The Daily Mail and the BNP are against AV? That's all the motivation any reasonable minded person should have to vote for it.
Thu 05/05/11 at 14:16
Regular
"I like turtles"
Posts: 5,368
AV is unfair,it makes winners out of losers and Britain needs to vote NO!






This must be true as it's on the front page of today's Daily Mail.
Wed 04/05/11 at 22:04
Regular
"Monochromatic"
Posts: 18,487
pb wrote:
You'd rather the Lib Dems stayed away and let the Conservatives or Labour run the country by themselves?

That was never an option, a majority government couldn't be formed without them.
My anger is that the Libs chose the wrong side to form a government with. They're supposed to be a liberal party but instead of siding with the other liberal party, they sided with the conservatives, a party they have nothing in common with. No-one who voted Liberal wanted a Conservative government which is why there was outrage when they sold everyone who had voted for them down the river.

At least they currently have some shot at getting a few polices through.

Hardly. They're still the 3rd party, they're still outnumbered and the only way they'll get anything is by threatening to collapse the majority.

Yes, they had to completely go against their own promises when the Conservatives shafted them (they had a system worked out where they could sort out the tuition fees, but it didn't sit with the budget the Conservatives planned, even though people now think it's as simple as the Lib Dems just turning around and saying 'no, we're keeping fees').

They were pretty bloody stupid if they didnt' see that coming. The Conservatives were always going to do whatever they wanted while the Libs rolled over.

Don't forget, without the Lib Dems around, we wouldn't be having this vote at all. Sometimes you have to grin and bare it for a while by playing the bigger part before you can get what you want in the long game.

Given the choice of FPTP or a Conservative government, I'll take the former. We can't afford the random hack and slash job this government is doing on the economy.
What really angers me though is the hypocrisy. After all the criticising of the previous government about their failure to control the banks, this government comes in talking tough but has now basically accepted that they can't do anything to fix it either.
Wed 04/05/11 at 21:35
Moderator
"possibly impossible"
Posts: 24,985
Nin wrote:

Personally there's no way in hell I would vote Conservative, even if given 4 or 5 choices and my feeling is the Libs sold out their voters by forming an alliance with the enemy, so they'll be getting the same treatment. Labour, then Green, then Independents.


You'd rather the Lib Dems stayed away and let the Conservatives or Labour run the country by themselves? At least they currently have some shot at getting a few polices through. Yes, they had to completely go against their own promises when the Conservatives shafted them (they had a system worked out where they could sort out the tuition fees, but it didn't sit with the budget the Conservatives planned, even though people now think it's as simple as the Lib Dems just turning around and saying 'no, we're keeping fees').

Don't forget, without the Lib Dems around, we wouldn't be having this vote at all. Sometimes you have to grin and bare it for a while by playing the bigger part before you can get what you want in the long game.
Wed 04/05/11 at 21:33
Regular
"How Ironic"
Posts: 4,312
I really wouldn't be surprised pete.
Wed 04/05/11 at 21:23
Regular
"I like turtles"
Posts: 5,368
Sonic Chris wrote:
Just had a debate on facebook with an utter moron. Just copied and pasted arguments at me from other websites.

You can probably look forward to seeing him again soon on the review forum :P
Wed 04/05/11 at 20:48
Regular
"How Ironic"
Posts: 4,312
Just had a debate on facebook with an utter moron. Just copied and pasted arguments at me from other websites. He supports the Conservatives, and seems to support AV because of Cameron's nice speeches and posters. Seems he doesn't have a clue what the system is about.

Put it this way; he thought Labour supported a 'Vote No' Campaign.
Wed 04/05/11 at 19:35
Regular
"Peace Respect Punk"
Posts: 8,069
Garin wrote:
Sibs has convinced me I need to vote no.

Is this serious or tongue-in-cheek...?
If you are voting no I'd be genuinely interested to know why - the few people I know who are voting no just seem to regurgitate the same old "Extremists votes count twice!!1" rubbish... Frankly I've yet to hear any half-decent reason to vote no...
Wed 04/05/11 at 19:32
Regular
"Peace Respect Punk"
Posts: 8,069
Nin wrote:
Sibs wrote:
[i]A telling point about the main party opposed to AV, the Conservatives, is that they actually use a system which is very similar to AV when electing their party leader, whereby they have a number of rounds and in each round the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, then everyone votes again until they are left with just two candidates and the final vote takes place. It's not identical (in fact I would suggest it is slightly better than AV, but it's also much more time-consuming) but the similarities are quite obvious and it does make a bit of a mockery of Conservatives saying it's unfair that someone who voted for a loser can vote again, when they do just that to choose their leader. If such a system is good enough for them, it begs the question why don't they want General Elections to be held under a similar system?


Missed replying to this.
They don't want it because it would essentially strengthen the left.

Conservatives (Right) 36.1%
Labour (Left) 29%
Libs (supposed to be Left) 23%

Essentially Labour and the Libs would be gaining each others votes in areas where one is a minority party. The idea being that no-one who votes Labour or Liberal is ever going to 2nd choice the Conservatives and will instead vote for the other Left party, which leaves the Conservatives a rather large problem if they're getting a 36.1% share of the vote but the Left is getting 52% just from the 2 main parties.
Personally there's no way in hell I would vote Conservative, even if given 4 or 5 choices and my feeling is the Libs sold out their voters by forming an alliance with the enemy, so they'll be getting the same treatment. Labour, then Green, then Independents.[/i]



Yep, the Tories do have a vested interest in keeping FPTP. In my idealistic brain I don't think it's a good reason to vote for something just because it would harm the Tories (or any other party for that matter). I think it's better to decide on a system which is more democratic regardless of who it will help/hurt the most.

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