This week I read that the BBC had banned reporters from referring to the referendum on May 5th on the UK voting system as a chance for "reform", as "reform" implies positive change and that could upset the campaign against reforming the system. Most of the establishment in this country support the status quo, or First Past The Post (FPTP), so it says a lot about the BBC. This led me to look further into what we are being asked to do on May 5th.
We currently elect MPs to represent a constituency based purely on which candidate gets the most votes. This means that the more candidates in a constituency the fewer the number and proportion of votes needed to win the seat. Under this method it is not uncommon for MPs to win their seats with only 1 in 3 voters supporting them. My MP in the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency was elected on just over 40% of the vote.
Under Alternative Vote an MP would need at least 50% of the votes to be elected. You can still vote for just one candidate but you can also vote in preference order. So if there are five candidates you give your first vote to your favoured candidate, second to your second and so on. Votes are then counted and the candidate with the fewest votes drops out. His second to fifth preference votes are then redistibuted. The process continues until a candidate attains 50% and is elected.
Of course the AV system is not perfect, no system of voting is, but it beats what we have at the moment. I don't intend wasting time now on other sytems of voting becase they are not what we will be asked to vote on come May 5th.
There are obvious flaws in this system. The 50% vote could easily be achieved by peoples second preference votes going to the lesser of two evils rather than going to a party they actually want to vote for. If you have Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and BNP candidates do you, instinctively a Labour voter, give your second vote, against all your instincts to the Lib Dems to try and kick the BNP. Maybe even Tory for your third vote to kick the BNP against all your beliefs?
However, with the proliferation of smaller parties, as people become disillusioned with the big three, there will be clearer, positive options for many people in most consituencies. Tory/UKIP, Labour/Green and so on, giving people more positive options than in the example above.
For what it's worth I also believe that the AV system preserves the politicians link to the electorate in a relatively small, single member constituency. Yes, theoretically modern communication systems should alleviate the need for old fashioned MPs' surgeries on a Saturday morning. But remember, modern communications are developed by geeks and their systems prove how bad many geeks are at actually communicating with other humans. Try phoning your local bank, or virtually any big business, to find out how bloody frustrating and seemingly anti-human most modern communication systems are.
A great Winston Churchill quote springs to mind: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". That could also apply to AV, but until a better system is an option I will be voting for AV on May 5th.
Visit the Yes to Fairer Votes website for more information.
In addition, thanks to Dan in the comments section, here are a couple of other useful links:
Try Voting Using AV
A worked example from Fairer Votes Edinburgh