Should the current electoral system be replaced with the Alternative Voting System?
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The Alternative Vote system is a more democratic alternative to the First Past the Post (FPTP) votin...
The Alternative Vote system is a more democratic alternative to the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system used in the UK and USA because it ensures elected representatives have the support of a majority of their constituents. Under First Past the Post, it is common for representatives to be elected with less than 50% of their constituents’ votes, so they have little legitimacy when making decisions on their behalf. Representatives elected under AV have a much stronger democratic mandate.
The Alternative Vote often prevents the most popular candidate from winning. In a race with several contenders, one may be far more popular with the voters than any other, gaining perhaps 40% of first preference votes while the next candidate might be 20% behind them. But quite often as less popular candidates are eliminated, their second and lower-preference votes don’t go to the leading contender and the eventual winner ends up being a bland, inoffensive centrist who was few citizens’ first choice.
AV is also better than proportional (PR) voting systems such as STV or List systems, because it is u...
AV is also better than proportional (PR) voting systems such as STV or List systems, because it is used to elect a single representative (member) from a compact constituency. Any proportional voting system requires much larger multi-member constituencies (such as those used for STV elections in Northern Ireland or List elections for the UK members of the European Parliament). With multi-member constituencies the direct link between voters and a single representative is lost; under PR voters typically cannot name any of their several representatives and do not know who to turn to when they are in need of help. Those elected feel little responsibility to represent the interests of their enormous constituency as a whole, even if these can be identified across a sprawling and diverse region. Representatives prefer instead to focus on the concerns of the 20% or so of citizens on whose votes they rely for re-election – a recipe for tribal politics.
AV is not a proportional system and produces skewed and unfair results at a national level. Put simply, as a single-member constituency system like First Past the Post, AV means a party can come second in every constituency in the country, with perhaps 30% or more of the national vote, and win no seats at all in the legislature. Although this is a theoretical outcome, in practice AV over-rewards the most popular party, under-rewards the next most popular, and greatly penalises third and minor parties which may win little or no representation in parliament. This is undemocratic as the views of millions of voters can go unrepresented, and a party with no more than 40% of first preference votes nationally may end up with a comfortable majority in the legislature.
AV also provides more accountability than proportional voting systems. Under PR a corrupt, incompet...
AV also provides more accountability than proportional voting systems. Under PR a corrupt, incompetent or otherwise unpopular representative will often get re-elected providing they retain the loyalty of 20% of so of the voters (STV), or of their party (List system). Such a candidate will surely fail to be re-elected under AV, which requires that they gain the support of over half the voters in their constituency. AV also provides more accountability in national politics, because it tends to limit the number of parties contending for power, making it easier for the country to throw out a government the voters judge to have failed – as seen in Australia in 2007. PR systems usually allow many parties to gain seats in the legislature and require multi-party coalitions, where accountability is blurred and some small parties often remain in government permanently in shifting coalitions.
AV does little to empower voters, in common with all single-member electoral systems, as they are still forced to choose between candidates presented by the main political parties. Each party chooses one candidate, who may be appointed by a small number of local activists or imposed on the area by the national party organisation. Voters who like a party but dislike its candidate face difficult decisions, unlike with STV or the Open List system which allow them to choose between a number of candidates from the same party. These proportional systems also make it easier for independent candidates to get elected – something that is usually impossible under AV.
AV is quite easy for voters to understand; all they have to do is number the candidates in their ord...
AV is quite easy for voters to understand; all they have to do is number the candidates in their order of preference. Anyone with a primary education is able to understand the process by which votes are counted and translated into victory for a single candidate. By contrast, PR systems such as STV and hybrid or mixed-member systems (such as the Additional Member Systems in use in Scotland, New Zealand and Germany) are very complicated and few voters can understand how they operate. A confusing system leads to lower turnouts, spoilt ballots and unintended outcomes.
AV doesn’t work well where levels of literacy and political engagement are low. First Past the Post only requires a cross against a single name, often accompanied by a symbol to help less literate voters find their preferred party. AV forces citizens to identify a range of candidates in order of preference, a much more demanding task. One consequence of this is “donkey voting”, where voters simply rank the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, etc in descending order down the ballot paper. To stop this uninformed voting skewing the outcome of the election, AV ballot papers often have to printed in a range of differently randomised orders – a clear admission of the weakness of the system.
A major advantage of AV is that it has the most realistic chance of being adopted in countries such ...
A major advantage of AV is that it has the most realistic chance of being adopted in countries such as the UK and USA which currently use First Past the Post in single-member constituencies. Unlike multi-member alternatives such as STV and List systems, AV also uses single-member constituencies so MPs and Congressmen elected under the existing system, who pride themselves upon their relationship with their constituency or district, may be willing to vote for it. And for voters in the UK, who have been promised a referendum on any change in the electoral system, AV would be a less dramatic change than other options, and so probably more acceptable. For those who dislike the unfairness and biases of First Past the Post, and so want electoral reform, the choice is really between AV and no change at all.
Plenty of democracies have changed their voting system, so it is not so hard that reformers should settle for second-best with AV. Even in the UK a range of different systems are used for different elections (e.g. in Scotland alone a mixed-member system is used for the Scottish parliament, STV is used for local council elections, and the List system is used for European Parliament elections). This means many voters and politicians are familiar with proportional systems and so may be willing to adopt one for elections to the national legislature.
A major problem with some voting systems, including First Past the Post, is that they encourage nega...
A major problem with some voting systems, including First Past the Post, is that they encourage negative and tactical voting. Often a supporter of a minority party is faced with either wasting their vote to help the candidate they really support come in third place, or deciding which of the leading two parties they dislike least and voting for that candidate in order to keep the object of their greatest dislike from winning. Not only is this likely to make many voters unhappy and depress turnout, it also makes perpetuates two party politics by making it very hard for a third party to ever breakthrough nationally. And a winning party may feel it has a mandate to carry out a strong programme in government, when many of its voters only chose it as the lesser of two evils. AV removes this problem by allowing voters to express their preferences honestly and clearly through its ranking system.
AV does not eliminate tactical voting as voters who wish to maximise the impact of their preferences need to second guess each other. In a race with two clear front-runners, a voter supporting one might still give their second preference to a third party even if the other main party would normally be their second choice.
AV has the advantage that it makes it very hard for extremist parties to win representation in the l...
AV has the advantage that it makes it very hard for extremist parties to win representation in the legislature. Most people would agree that far-right or hard-left parties should be allowed to win seats if they can gain support from a large section of the voting public, but proportional systems make it ridiculously easy for parties with a racist or anti-democratic agenda to enter the legislature. Under STV or the List system being able to win 15% of the votes in a large multi-member constituency is often enough to win a place in parliament, whereas under AV they would need the support of over half the people in a single constituency to do so.
AV may squeeze out extremist parties, but it also tends to push the main parties to a fuzzy, centrist middle as they seek to appeal for the first and second preference votes of over half the voters. This can discourage parties from developing radical and distinctive policies, even if the political and economic circumstances demand strong leadership and tough measures in the national interest. Would Margaret Thatcher have been elected in the UK under an AV system?
AV will help change the political culture for the better, as successful candidates will be those who...
AV will help change the political culture for the better, as successful candidates will be those who can gain second-preference votes from their rivals’ supporters. Politicians who go in for negative campaigning with personal attacks on other candidates are unlikely to gain many second- and third preference votes, so they will have to approach the election more constructively than at present, stressing their own policies and principles in a positive manner.
Politics should be an adversarial business, in which candidates define their own positions against those of their rivals. Too much consensus and collegiality makes for poor scrutiny of policy proposals and limits real voter choice. It may also lead to a dull election and depress voter turnout. As AV often leads to deals between parties who recommend each other for their supporters’ second preference votes, it can promote a cosy political culture which limits accountability and favours parties most willing to compromise their principles.
Although many supporters of voting reform would prefer a more proportional system than AV, they shou...
Although many supporters of voting reform would prefer a more proportional system than AV, they should back it as a staging post to a better outcome. As noted above, AV is the only system both politicians and voters used to FPTP are likely to accept at present. But AV shares with STV a ballot paper in which candidates are ranked in order of preference, so in time this may become seen as an obvious final step of electoral reform. Alternatively, the system of AV+ proposed by the Jenkins Commission in the UK in 1999 might be adopted. This would be a hybrid or mixed-member system combining single-member constituencies elected under AV, with “top-up” seats awarded under a List system in order to make the overall result more proportional. If AV was already in use, it would be very easy simply to add “additional members” to provide the proportional top-up element.
Adopting AV as a staging-post is to admit that it isn’t the best system available. Furthermore, the effort required to persuade politicians and voters to change the electoral system once, along with the expense and effort of reorganising the administration of voting, means that there is no certainty that a second round of electoral reform will ever be achieved. In addition, AV+ is a hugely complicated and untried voting system, never used in any real election – this was a key reason why the Jenkins’ Commission report was never implemented in the UK.
What do you think?