Saturday, 30 April 2011

Voting Reform 6: Do we need an active vote? #referendum

Further to my last post, the only odd scenario I can find is where a vast majority put the last-place candidate as second preference.

So no-one wanted them as their first choice, but actually everyone's happy with them as a second choice. But they can't be elected because they're eliminated first. Better everyone's second choice than half of the voters' first choice?

There is a system which would elect that candidate. It's called 'approval voting', and was recently chosen as the best voting system at a conference of psephologists.

Basically, voters just put an x next to as many candidates as they approve of - whoever receives the most approval votes wins.

It's a good system, but that's not really an active vote - it relegates the role of the voter somewhat.

I think it's probably better to have the candidate who has a combination of a strong base of supporters (first preference votes) plus a decent approval rate among non-supporters (second preference votes). That makes AV a middle ground between approval and FPTP.

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Friday, 29 April 2011

Voting Reform 5: Who's votes are counted twice? #referendum

The biggest potential issue I can see with AV - the thing that is most puzzling at first - is the assertion that the votes for extreme minorities are the ones which are recounted first.

So I've been playing with some numbers, trying to come up with a scenario where the fact that the last-place candidate is eliminated first and their votes redistributed first makes a difference. I can't find one.

You eliminate the definite loser each time, redistributing votes starting with the smallest number. If the smallest number of votes plus the largest (the leading candidate) make more than 50%, all the other votes combined must be less.

Whichever way you look at it, because the winner needs a 50% majority, the only result you can get is the right one, with majority support.

Or can anyone come up with a scenario where it doesn't work?

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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Voting Reform 4: Why extremists don't want AV #referendum

So small parties would benefit from AV. What does that mean for extremist parties like the racist BNP?

It's often reported that the BNP are against AV. This is telling, but not a proper argument for AV in itself. A lot of BNP members like ice cream; that doesn't mean we shouldn't like it.

Now, it might just be that they're showing their conservative side and supporting the Great British Institution of First Past The Post. But it could be that they're acting in their own interests - because FPTP is more likely to see them getting an MP.

Under FPTP, a party can win with only, say, 30% of the vote. On a national level, this often happens. In constituencies, the MP elected often has a bigger majority, and many in safe seats win with large majorities.

For extremists, this means they can focus on the one element of the population who might agree with them. For the BNP, that means they could get elected in a seat like Barking, which the BNP focused on in 2010, despite the large ethnic minorities in that constituency, almost none of whom would list the BNP candidate as an option to represent them.

With FPTP, the response of ethnic minorities to a BNP presence is to gang up under the leading candidate - in this case a Labour candidate.

Under AV, the BNP would need to seek not only first preference votes from disenchanted right-wingers, but also secure some second preferences. As an extremist party, voters either love or hate the BNP. Voters are pretty much going to list extremist parties as their first preference, or not at all.

As far as I can see, extremist parties are much less of a threat under AV.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Voting Reform 3: Weak Governments? #referendum

A two-party system could be said to lead to strong governments with large majorities in Parliament. Unfortunately, this is usually off the back of a minority of the vote: 30-40% usually.

Conversely, proportional systems are often criticised for producing weak governments who fail to implement their policies - or in the case of Belgium, fail to even form a government.

However, there are many factors that impact on the strength of government - in the intricate UK system, the Prime Minister is a central figure who needs to be a good broker between her Cabinet ministers. In Belgium, it is the ethno-linguistic division in the country - i.e. 'Belgium is not a real country' - which has produced their standstill. Arguably FPTP would be worse as it would lead to a swing between the two extremes.

So proportional systems like AV often lead to coalition governments which are forced to compromise with their former opponents in the country's best interests - or abandon their manifesto pledges for a shot at power, depending on how you look at it.

Does it follow that coalition governments are weak, lacking political will? After a hectic year of coalition politics, I think weakness is not one of this government's many flaws.

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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Voting Reform 2: Two-Party Systems #referendum

The referendum is not just a question of to 'AV' or 'AV' not. It's also a vote of on the present system, First Past The Post.

One of the main problems with FPTP is the tendency towards a two-party system. Where only two parties have any real chance of power (as is usually the case in the UK), there are disenchanted voters and low turnouts.

Will AV break the back of the two-party system? In theory, yes. All those tactical voters, who would otherwise vote for a candidate who will come third, will be able to vote just how they want. They'll back up their vote with a second preferences, knowing that they will be counted in later rounds if it turns out that their candidate was a non-starter.

In practice, it's difficult to say what will happen, there are so many variables in play. Voters have never been asked for their second preferences, so all projections are sketchy.

One projection guessed that the result of all the postwar elections would have been pretty much the same. But you can't take each election in isolation and then claim that it wouldn't make a difference in the historical trends. For example, the Lib Dems would have more votes, making them a more viable party. They could have then, over the years, built up a stronger base of MPs, giving them the experience and pool of people necessary to make a more effective coalition partner.

The fact is, AV changes the rules of the game, and makes it easier for third parties to win, simply because, it allows us to cast our votes more honestly.

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Monday, 25 April 2011

Voting Reform: What's wrong with FPTP? #referendum

Firstly, this lovely video gives outlines some of the problems of First Past The Post:

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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Voting Reform

Every day between now and the referendum on 5th May, I'll be posting here about the referendum on the voting system to elect MPs.

It's so important that we get this right now - scrapping one system for another is a major undertaking, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to say our piece on how the country is run. The consequences of a 'yes' vote are obviously big; but we need to remember that a 'no' vote will effectively kill any major electoral reform for a generation. We all need to work out what we want and vote accordingly.

I'll be looking at the issues one at a time - from the pros, cons and intricacies of both systems, to the likely outcomes of an AV system. Hopefully this will all help you understand what you'll be voting for and against, and make an informed decision either way on the day.

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