AV Referendum: “Why I am voting No…”

Whatever the method of voting used to elect the government, in a democracy, there is one thing that everyone accepts, and that is, that there are winners and losers.

At the moment in the UK, every one has one vote. You have the right to use that vote & freely choose who to vote for. You don’t have the right to vote for the winner.

We have used the system called ‘first-past-the-post’ with universal suffrage since 1928. It is simple, straightforward and effective. The one who gets the most votes wins.

We are being asked to change to a system called the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) in a move that its proponents claim will:

1) make politicians have to gain the support of 50% of their constituents to win;
2) stop votes being wasted;
3) make MPs work harder.

Our current system, they say, is broken and it’s time to usher in a new era of cleaner politics.

But the Alternative Vote won’t do any of that. I am voting NO because AV is an unfair politician’s fix. David Laws MP, the Lib Dem negotiator of the coalition deal last May, claimed AV would “shield (his party) from unpopularity”. AV is a system that boosts the results of the third party wherever it is used, often at the expense of the smallest parties represented in Parliament.

Under AV instead of marking your ballot paper with a cross for the one you want to win, you rank the candidates in order of preference. So far so good, but it’s when you get to the counting stage that the unfairness of AV becomes clear. If a candidate achieves 50% of the votes cast they are declared the winner. However, if they haven’t gained that margin, then the votes of the least popular party are recycled according to who they wanted to come second, third and so on. Because voting will still be optional, many MPs will still win with less than 50% of the votes cast as many people will still vote only once for the one they want to win.

Votes for the losing parties in a constituency can be counted several times. The first preferences of the two most popular parties are counted only once. The second, third, and fourth ranked votes of those who voted for the losing candidates could determine the outcome of the election. How is that fair?

Those arguing for AV say that MPs who get less than 50% of the vote do not have a legitimate mandate because not enough voters in their constituency support them. But more people wanted them to win than any other candidate.

As many MPs will continue to win with less than 50% support, what is the point of AV? This spurious 50% winning margin is merely a device to try to fix the outcome in a very few seats in favour of the third party in British politics. But it may have an unforeseen outcome in Northern Ireland where AV may harden voting along sectarian lines as parties give each other their second preferences. The political map would become less diverse as the system helps the main parties to solidify their support. AV certainly makes it more difficult for smaller parties like the Green Party to win seats in the UK Parliament.

And there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Every vote is counted. You may vote for a candidate who doesn’t win but that’s democracy.

As for making MPs work harder – changing the system of electing them won’t do that! Many MPs in marginal seats are already working very hard indeed. Unfortunately, the only places in which AV may actually change the outcome are in seats like Brighton where the Green Party won their first Parliamentary seat!

Yes, voters are still very angry and disillusioned with politicians. What they want are politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say. They want political leaders who make promises that they mean to keep, not break in return for Ministerial appointments in coalition government. Cleaner politics? I don’t think so. AV would deliver more broken promises after every election. That’s why I’m voting No to AV.

  • otto

    Is this your opinion Mick or a cut and paste from somewhere?

  • Reader

    It’s an argument that leaps at the weakest arguments for AV, and ignores the best arguments
    1) That it opens the door to small parties and new parties by allowing everyone to see first preference votes – often hidden by FPTP.
    2) It does this by relieving voters of either the need or temptation to vote tactically. The voter can vote exactly as they wish, knowing that AV will eventually place their vote where they need it to be – first vote for Socialist Fruitbat Cadre (“Keep the Revolution Alive”), second last preference for Nu Labour (“Keep out Thatcher’s Baby”)
    I’m actually shocked at the way that the Broadsheet Press are utterly failing to educate people about AV. It’s as though they assume that their readership can’t cope with a perfectly simple mathematical procedure and the consequences that emerge from it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    They’re not really “arguments”. Let’s see what this is :

    David Laws MP, the Lib Dem negotiator of the coalition deal last May, claimed AV would “shield (his party) from unpopularity”.

    (argument by qualification)

    AV is a system that boosts the results of the third party wherever it is used,

    Lies. Under a system using transferable votes there is no “third party”, elected reps tend to be more evenly distributed.

    often at the expense of the smallest parties represented in Parliament.

    More lies – in fact if there is any criticism of AV it’s that smaller parties get disproportionately more votes.

    Because voting will still be optional, many MPs will still win with less than 50% of the votes cast as many people will still vote only once for the one they want to win.

    Translation : voters are too stupid to use AV properly. Not only is this treating the electorate for fools, it contradicts the actual experience everywhere where transferable voting is practiced.

    As for making MPs work harder – changing the system of electing them won’t do that! Many MPs in marginal seats are already working very hard indeed.

    Indeed, and under AV, more seats become “marginal” as an MP must reach out to a wider proportion of the electorate to obtain the transfers he needs to get re-elected.

    Cleaner politics? I don’t think so. AV would deliver more broken promises after every election.

    Of the many claims I’ve heard from FPTP, the idea that it makes politicians more likely to keep their promises compared with AV has to be the most specious.

  • Mick Fealty

    Otto,

    Sorry. My byline was the default. James own work,exclusively for Slugger.

  • otto

    That’s a relief Mick. Didn’t sound like you. Too much punctuation!!!!

  • Lionel Hutz

    It’s funny that in first past the post, there is no post. Isn’t AV really the voting system that should be described as first past the post? After all the first candidate past 50% wins!

    Turning to the article, everyone has the right to vote. I believe that ideal is that everyone’s vote counts and an electoral system should go as far as possible to achieve that. AV scores better on this criteria than FTPT as it atleast attempts to have 50% of votes count.

  • ajdunlop

    If anything I think for Northern Ireland AV might encourage people to break out of voting for ‘their side’. Of course many people are still going to give their first preference to the party they always vote for just to show what side of the UK/UI debate they stand. However with their 2nd preference they could put a party from ‘the other side’ based on policies such as schools and hospitals. This could tip the result to being a win for a party which represents the dominant community in that constituency but that also represents the majority in terms of other issues. Therefore the result is more representative of the voters in that constituency, win.

  • pippakin

    AV is better than FPTP but thats all it is. Imo it is not the best system the UK could have. If they are going to change the system I would like to see voting made mandatory and a full proportional representation system introduced. Too often people squander their vote, not because it makes a point but because they can.

  • Zig70

    I don’t like av but I’m going to vote for it. Just for the prospect of the English being a minority in their own parliament.(according to Cameron… not sure how that works but it convinced me)

  • IJP

    This is a shocking article, which is, I’m afraid, pretty typical of the whole campaign.

    As Comrade points out, most of the article is either playing the man or just plain lying. (The third party point is just plain claptrap – Australia, the most obvious example, has even gone as far as a formal centre-right coalition such was the trend towards a two-party system under AV.)

    This whole referendum campaign has just consisted of a pack of lies from each side. It makes you despair for democracy in the UK, it really does.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Would it be accurate to describe AV as single seat STV? as occasionally occured here for by-elections, together with the equalisation of constituencies taking the next step to full STV would be quite simple, if it was accepted that is. I still suspect even if implemented the 2 party state will come back, the Brits dont really like coalitions.

  • granni trixie

    Cheek! Both Jane Kennedy AND John Reid presided over PR in NI! One rule for NI and another for….the mainland.(in their eyes,according to their arguments re AV).

  • Drumlins Rock

    IJP, the NO camp have been really scraping the barrel, O found their tactics counter productive, but many will fall for them.

  • Alias

    “The second, third, and fourth ranked votes of those who voted for the losing candidates could determine the outcome of the election. How is that fair?”

    Well, ask Mary Robinson. She got elected as Irish president under AV despite receiving lower first preference votes than Lenihan. In effect, she lost the election but was still declared the winner. From fair to farce…

  • Glensman

    Can someone please outline where the main parties stand on this issue? What way are they advising people to vote?

  • Denis Cooper

    Drumlins Rock –

    “Would it be accurate to describe AV as single seat STV?”

    Yes, or more exactly single winner STV.

    So although the Republic uses multi-seat constituencies and STV for general elections, that reduces to the simpler AV for a by-election such as this:

    http://electionsireland.org/counts.cfm?election=2007B&cons=85&ref

    which illustrates the absurdity of the claim that:

    “Votes for the losing parties in a constituency can be counted several times. The first preferences of the two most popular parties are counted only once”.

    At the end of the first counting round the eventual winner, Maureen O’Sullivan, had 7,639 ballot papers in her pile, all first preference votes.

    The bottom candidate, Paul O’Loughlin, was then eliminated and during the second counting round 72 ballot papers were transferred from his pile to hers.

    So what was O’Sullivan’s new total after the second counting round?

    Was it only 72, because the 7,639 she had before were “counted only once”?

    Or was it 7,711, because the 7,639 she had before were counted again – even if it was unnecessary to physically recount the pile of ballot papers – and 7,639 + 72 = 7,711?

    And what of the 34 ballot papers which were in O’Loughlin’s pile and which became “Non-transferable papers not effective” because those electors had only voted for him and had expressed no further preferences?

    How many times were those 34 ballot papers counted?

    It’s simple enough:

    1. No elector is put in a privileged position through the use of AV, because

    2. Each elector is given just one ballot paper, “one person one vote”, and

    3. Every elector’s ballot paper is counted in every counting round, unless

    4. The elector has directed on his ballot paper that it should be withdrawn from the process if/when a certain candidate is eliminated.

    Which presumably is why MPs have no problem using AV for the election of a select committee chairman:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/executive/briefing-note-ballot-select-committee-chairs.pdf

    and peers have no problem using AV for the election of the Speaker of the House of Lords:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/SpeakershipElectionResult.pdf

    Even though some of those MPs and peers are then prepared to go out and tell brazen lies about AV because they don’t want the common herd using it for parliamentary elections.

  • Jane Kennedy

    Under your example, Denis, the 72 people got their first and second preferences counted, while the vast majority of people only got one preference counted; that’s patently unfair.

    AV for Speaker / Chair elections is fundamentally different from general elections because these are not partisan elections; people are not choosing between parties advocating very different policies and world views, and there is no danger of a hung parliament. Choosing a team leader is different from choosing between teams.

    MPs and Peers also work alongside their colleagues for years, and therefore tend to have a much more nuanced perspective on candidates’ strengths and weaknesses than voters, who have to depend on second-hand information via the media, and typically do not have strong feelings about a 3rd or 7th preference party. That’s, after all, why the Australians hand out How to Vote cards.

  • lover not a fighter

    I am going to vote Yes because I want my vote to have as much say as possible.

    I don’t like the concept of safe seats that has always been there under fptp

    I like to let the politicians know how far they are down my list. Some will be way down or not there which ever is the best strategic move for me “The Voter”

  • If had AV during the 2010 General election, the candidates elected would have been the same except in two seats

    (1) East Belfast: Peter Robinson would have held on to his seat

    (2) Antrim South: Sir Reg Empey would have won that seat.

    Northern Ireland voters really should be thinking about the formation of the Westminster Government when they vote on AV. Will they be doing that? As to the majority of them, no chance. That makes it all rather depressing.

  • On balance the Yes/No Campaign seems to be a dispute between people who are very intelligent or think they are (the Yes Folks) and people who they brand as “thickos”.

    In those circumstances I always line up with the “thickos” (MY people). I will vote NO to confound the Great and the Good who feel they know whats right for people.
    The stunning thing is that people talk piously about fair votes with one corner of their mouths……and defend one Partys potential 50,000 votes being a bigger mandate that two Parties on 100,000 votes each.
    Hypocrisy and Opportunism? Yes.
    Fairness ……No.

  • alex gray

    The reason to vote against AV must surely be that it is teh votes of thsoe who support the lowest polling candidates who determine the election. AV is not STV which is fair. AV is a Libdem gerrymander.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If had AV during the 2010 General election, the candidates elected would have been the same except in two seats

    Seymour, I think it’s fundamentally wrong to judge an electoral system on the basis that it might return candidates that you don’t like. I say this knowing that Alliance might not have gained EB had there been AV in place.

    FJ:

    In those circumstances I always line up with the “thickos” (MY people).

    I can’t tell whether you’re being self-deprecating or whether you have an inferiority complex.

    I will vote NO to confound the Great and the Good who feel they know whats right for people.

    That’s a really dumbass argument and it’s way beneath you. Why do you think the Tories don’t fit the definition of “the great and good who feel they know what’s right for people” ? The whole anti-AV campaign has been full of this kind of talk. Right on this thread we’re being told that AV can’t work because people are too stupid to understand it.

    IJP,

    Agreed, it does make you despair. From my point of view this is an illustration of the limitations of direct democracy – it divides people, and we’re not having a lot of proper debate. The energy of the pro-AV campaign is being taken up in defending against the plainly nasty FUD being put out by the anti-AV campaign.

    This is going to backfire badly for the Lib Dems. If they lose the referendum, as seems reasonably likely, the coalition deal will have effectively killed off any prospect of electoral reform for a generation. That will be the final victory for the Tories.

  • Comrade Stalin,
    The background figure (in quite a lot of stuff) who told me that the AV system was to keep out extremists is on your side of the YES/NO divide.
    Yet HE seems to believe that changing a system to get a required result is legitimate reason to change a system. Like you, I believe that its not a good reason..and I choose to vote NO on that basis.
    I leave it to yourself to determine whether my use of the word “thickos” in quotation marks was a true reflection of how I think of them or how I think of the arrogant superiority that the Great and the Good attribute to themselves.
    Yes “MY people”…..those are the ordinary folks with whom I will always line up against vested interest..especially well financed interest that airbrushes photographs of eminent black people out of their propaganda. Shabby. Thats not “YOUR” people either but it is “THEIR” people.
    The sheer amateur clumsiness of the NO argument is EXACTLY what appeals to me.

    If voting NO to AV weakens the Coalition in England…..brilliant!!!
    There is no “dumbass argument” that is beneath me.
    I really am as stupid as I appear to be.
    The acute inferiority complex stems from my acute inferiority.

  • “Seymour, I think it’s fundamentally wrong to judge an electoral system on the basis that it might return candidates that you don’t like.”

    I did not make that argument. However, now that you mention East Belfast, it is a fact that in Northern Ireland the first past the post system does give the best chance for a non-communal MP to win a seat.

    There are no rights or wrongs here. In the end, we want the best politicians. AV is a charter for the “All things to all men” type of politician who knows they can promise the moon and never be accused of being in breach of promise because they never go into government.

    As I have said though, very few people in Northern Ireland give a monkeys about who governs in Westminster. That is what is really wrong.

  • Denis Cooper

    Jane Kennedy –

    “Under your example, Denis, the 72 people got their first and second preferences counted, while the vast majority of people only got one preference counted; that’s patently unfair.”

    No, the process is fair to all electors.

    In the first round everyone had a chance of seeing their most preferred candidate elected – albeit that in some cases the chance was very slim – and all their first preferences were counted.

    Then in the second round those who still had a chance of seeing their most preferred candidate elected had their first preferences counted again – which was fair to them – while those who no longer had any chance of seeing their most preferred candidate elected had their second preferences counted instead – which was fair to them.

    Apart from those who had freely chosen not to state any second preference, whose ballot papers were removed from the process – which was fair to them as well.

    So, for example, the 7,639 people who put down Maureen O’Sullivan as their first choice had their first preference votes counted in the first round, and then they had them all counted again in the second round.

    When it came to that second round, with their first choice still one the surviving candidates, those 7,639 electors wouldn’t have wanted to have their second preferences counted instead of their first preference, and they couldn’t reasonably expect to have both counted – that really would have been giving them two votes.

    In principle it’s analogous to holding a series of run-off ballots, with the candidate who comes bottom in each round barred from being a candidate in the next round but with the entire electorate still being permitted to vote again.

    So Paul O’Loughlin having come bottom in the first round he would not have been allowed to be a candidate in the second round, but the 203 people who had voted for him in the first round would still have been allowed to vote again in the second round, along with and on equal terms with all those who had not voted for him.

  • Comrade Stalin

    FJH

    Yet HE seems to believe that changing a system to get a required result is legitimate reason to change a system.

    Entirely in your imagination. The central argument for changing to AV is that it is fairer. The debate should be centred around that, not around what kind of politicians it will deliver.

    Yes “MY people”…..those are the ordinary folks with whom I will always line up against vested interest

    Populist nonsense.

    If voting NO to AV weakens the Coalition in England…..brilliant!!!

    There will be one winner and one loser in the coalition. Either way it will be a major test.

  • Here’s a simple comparison, showing why AV is less representative because it is still based on the single-member constituency (i.e. the MP represents property, not electors).

    In the RoI, thanks to multi-member constituencies and proper STV, Labour voters can claim a TD of their own appellation in 32 of the 43 constituencies (i.e. about 75% of voters are “represented”). That’s on a share just below 20% of the national vote.

    In the UK & NI there are 258 Labour MPs for the 650 constituencies. The spoken intent of AV is to reduce that less-than-40% “representation” to closer to the 30% share of the valid vote. In other words, were AV to “work” the way its advocates propound (and it won’t), 70% of Labour voters will not be represented except by the transferred “majoritarian” vote: i.e. by proxy.

    The same calculation could be done for each other party. No amount of transferring will give a Labour voter in Surrey or a Tory in Liverpool an MP of their choice. “Sorry, sir, we’re fresh out of Pinot Noir. Will this nice acetic vinegar do?”

    On the other thread I had to find myself, at last agreeing with Reader @ 11:27 am there: a proper system of PR may become available once the electorate has become used to voting 1,2,3. Yeah, like Scotland, Wales, and wherever there are mayoral elections, we’ve got that in London, too: it gave us Blasted Boris. But I hand it to Reader @ 11:27 am: AV is ersatz-PR for v-e-r-y slow learners.

  • Well actually Comrade Stalin. Thats exactly what he said. One word “yes” and I regard people like him to be parasites. Mere by-standers to our politics without the decency to join in an upfront manner.
    The mere fact that he says “yes” is good enough for me to vote “no”.
    At least people who actually stand for and support the political parties or comment about politics are to be admired.
    Theres little to be admired in powerful, well connected (across all parties)shadowy figures in lucrative consultative capacities who aim to pull the strings of all the parties without any public accountability.

  • otto

    Maggie only realised we have a “full repairing lease” on our planet when the British people showed her their concern about our degredation of our planet at the (stv) european elections. Up until then the Green Party was just another division in the liberal reformist British mainstream – something the Tory Chicago School right could mock as it divided the left and gave them even more of a free run at the UK economy despite barely sraping 40% (or less) of the vote.

    Seymour tells us “biggest faction” but minority government is the best way of bringing forward new ideas. It’s also a way of ignoring new ideas so long as they’re damaging the competition more than you. AV both encourages the development of new ideas (as small parties have the endorsement of first preference votes if not seats) and their early adoption by “parties of government” as their market is proven.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The mere fact that he says “yes” is good enough for me to vote “no”.

    Kinda sums up the problem with our politics. People – including those who are supposed to have sense – won’t consider an argument on it’s merits, but instead fall back to some notion of tradition, or principle, or the fact that they plain don’t like the person making the case. Talk about putting personalities before the issues.

  • Denis Cooper

    Jane Kennedy –

    On your second set of points, if an electoral system is fundamentally flawed then clearly it should not be used for any elections, not within Parliament or outside Parliament or to Parliament.

    NO2AV claim that AV violates the sacred principle of “one person one vote”, and yet MPs are using it for internal House of Commons elections without any of them objecting to it on that fundamental ground and demanding that it must replaced by a system based on “one MP one vote”.

    Similarly there are no objections in the House of Lords when the peers use AV to elect their Speaker, no demands that it should be “one peer one vote” and so they must stop using this fundamentally flawed AV system which gives some peers more votes than others.

    It makes no difference at all that MPs and peers may know more about the various candidates, or that the elections are for supposedly non-partisan positions.

    If it were true that AV violated the fundamental, sacred, principle of “one person one vote” then they shouldn’t be using it for internal elections under any circumstances.

    But of course they know very well that AV doesn’t violate that principle, even though some of them are telling us that it does.

    Incidentally the Crossbench Hereditary Peers will shortly be using AV to fill a vacancy in their group:

    http://hightory.com/2011/04/20/candidates-may-by-election/

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-information-office/holbynotice10052011.pdf

    There are some fairly British names involved in that “un-British” election.

    On the matter of “How To Vote” cards, that practice developed in Australia under the variant of AV which requires the voter to rank all the candidates and I don’t see UK parties going to those lengths.

  • FuturePhysicist

    As real politics begins to emerge here, people will soon appreciate the need for a real political system here.

  • This article is a prime example of just how terrible the arguments for AV are. When it was originally published under Micks name, I wondered if the well to do financiers had managed to get even him in their pay.

    The no campaign is being heavily funded by the supporters of the conservative party becuase it would help destroy the conservatives hold on power. It won’t do this by fudging the numbers but by showing that most people in the United Kingdom do not want a conservative Government.

  • CommentOnStats

    Jane Kennedy 22 April 2011 at 11:57 am

    : AV for Speaker / Chair elections is fundamentally different from
    : general elections because these are not partisan elections;
    : people are not choosing between parties advocating very different
    : policies and world views, and there is no danger of a hung
    : parliament. Choosing a team leader is different from choosing
    : between teams.

    : MPs and Peers also work alongside their colleagues for years, and
    : therefore tend to have a much more nuanced perspective on
    : candidates strengths and weaknesses than voters, who have to
    : depend on second-hand information via the media, and typically do
    : not have strong feelings about a 3rd or 7th preference party.
    : That’s, after all, why the Australians hand out How to Vote
    : cards.

    NO2AV just don’t get it. Any old argument it seems is justified to stop AV.

    Whether or not Speaker/Chair elections are partisan or not is irrelevant to the charge against AV. Amongst other charges it is claimed that AV counts some votes more than others. That charge has been put in the US courts and the charge has been dismissed.

    The use of AV style voting to elect Labour and Conservative leaders, the Irish President, Irish By-Elections, The Australian House of Representatives, London Mayor, San Francisco and Minnesota Local Government etc is evidence that AV meets the requirement of one person one vote.

    Ms Kennedy’s comments could leave the impression that voters are more stupid than the MPs and Peers that use AV.

    It is worth noting that Australia uses (too often IMO) Full Preferential voting. That means to cast a valid vote the unfortunate voter has to give each candidate a valid preference. THAT IS NOT THE PROPOSAL BEING PUT IN THE UK. Some Australian elections use “optional preferential voting” and that is a better example of what is being proposed here.

    Under optional preferential voting(AV), it is quite possible that an MP can be elected without reaching 50%, that is voter choice and not some sinister fix or arrangement. Anyway under FPTP an MP can be elected on 30% of the vote, is that fair to the other 70% who voted for someone else?

    It might also be mentioned that Australian elections are compulsory and therefore that can raise the invalid vote.

    As the NIO once pointed out to the population of Northern Ireland, “Its as simple as 1,2,3”.

  • CommentOnStats

    : Jane Kennedy
    :
    : Votes for the losing parties in a constituency can be counted
    : several times. The first preferences of the two most popular
    : parties are counted only once. The second, third, and fourth
    : ranked votes of those who voted for the losing candidates could
    : determine the outcome of the election. How is that fair?

    I’m saddened by the wording of the above. However in answer to “How is that fair?” here’s my view:

    AV is like multiple runoff voting, without the runoffs. That is why Americans call AV “Instant Runoff Voting”.

    It works like this theoretical example:

    David Miliband, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband are fighting an election. Ed Balls comes third, Ed Miliband second & David Miliband has the most votes. No candidate gains half or more of the votes cast, but under First Past The Post, David Miliband is leader of the Labour Party. That’s because David Miliband had more votes than any other candidate. According to NO2AV logic thats simple and fair.

    However, Ed Balls drops out as the Labour Party does not use FPTP to elect its leaders.

    Ed Balls’ supporters now have to decide which of the two candidates they prefer. They are in the Gordon Brown wing of the party and note that Ed Miliband was closer to Gordon than his brother. They direct their preferences to Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband pulls ahead of David Miliband. Ed Miliband is elected, under AV, leader of the Labour Party.

    There is no counting of some votes at the expense of others. This, also, is illustrated quite well in the piles of ballots pictured in the election leaflet from aboutmyvote.co.uk. As candidates are eliminated the votes are placed by means of preferences into the frontrunners piles of votes. At the end of the process there are two piles. The candidate with the biggest pile wins. Each ballot paper in each pile is worth exactly the same. No vote is worth more than another. And that’s fair.