WARNING!!! – The following post contains serious comments (for a change!).
Here in the UK, we are just hours away from only the second national referendum ever to be held in the UK. And is everybody ready for it? Yes or no – you decide!
Over the last couple of weeks I have seen many Party Election Broadcasts on the television. Each party has its own view of the voting system and has been trying to persuade us as to whether we stick with the current ‘first past the post’ or adopt the ‘alternative vote’. Also, I have had leaflets and mail shots coming through my letterbox advising me which way to go.
I have seen valid arguments from both the Yes and No campaigners. For example:
YES – how can it be right that the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both gained/retained the post of Prime Minister despite approximately 65% of the votes counted going to other parties?
NO – it is going to be very expensive to introduce the new system and the money would be better spent on services like the NHS and the Police.
However, I have unanswered questions about the AV system.
One of the main selling points for AV is that the ranking of your vote allows for the eventual winner to be the party which has gained most overall votes, even if they did not have more than 50% of the votes at the first count. The way the AV system has been explained (see a little video here) makes it quite simple, but there are some large holes in this counting system for which I have yet to find an explanation. And I am running out of time!
A quick summary of the new system is that voters have the opportunity to cast their vote by ranking the candidates. For example if there are 4 candidates (A, B, C & D) the voter can place them in their preferred order (D, A, C, B). What has not always been made clear is that a voter doesn’t have to rank them; they could just cast a single vote (D).
If a party has more than 50% of the votes cast at the first count, they have won – simple as that. However, if no party can claim more than 50%, then a further count takes place. The count resumes by eliminating the party with the least votes. The ballot papers for that eliminated party are counted again using the second vote cast on them (assuming they have one) and are added to the relevant party.
Let’s say we have only 9 voters casting their votes:
(D, B, C, A)
(A, B, C, D)
(C, B, A, D)
(B, D, C)
(C, B, A, D)
(A, B, C)
(D, B, C, A)
To win, a party must attain at least 5 votes, but in this example, the first count would be: A = 3, B = 1, C = 2, D = 3. No party has more than 50% so a second count is needed. The lowest (B) is eliminated and their votes (B, D, C) are redistributed. Obviously, their own vote is not counted, so the ballot paper (in this case) is added to the second ranked party (D). This makes the new count: A = 3, C = 2, D = 4. Still no party has more than 50% so a third count is required.
Now, the lowest (C) is eliminated again and their votes (C, B, A, D), (C, B, A, D) are redistributed. The second rank on these papers is B, but B has already been eliminated, so the next highest ranked vote is counted which makes the new totals: A = 5, D = 4. We have a winner!
My example is very simple, but the first party eliminated (B) actually had the majority of second votes, so were technically the most popular party but won’t be elected because they were not ranked as number 1 by the majority. And the second party eliminated (C) received the most third ranks! What’s more, the eventual winner was not in the lead at the second count. With this in mind, one of my unanswered questions is how can the YES campaign state the new system WILL ensure the most popular party is elected?
I guess I will not receive an answer before I cast my vote and so will have to toss a coin before marking my ballot paper! Perhaps that’s how we should elect the government! 😉