The Green party recently had a Coffee House discussion on the Alternative Vote. The government is committed to holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV).
Image from: www.yestofairervotes.org
Currently this is expected to be combined with the May 2011 local elections. Nearly a year ago I outlined the possible PR systems on my blog - see here - Greens are committed to supporting the reform to AV although acknowledge this is nothing like the reform that is needed. Below I set out the case for and against put together by a Green colleague, as discussed at the Coffee House....
What is the Alternative Vote?
Like First Past The Post (FPTP), the Alternative Vote (AV) is used to elect representatives for single-member constituencies, except that, rather than simply marking one solitary 'X' on the ballot paper, the voter may (or in some cases must) rank the candidates in order of preference.
A candidate with a majority of first-preference votes (more than all the rest combined), is elected If no candidate gains a majority of first preferences, the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.
The case for AV
· It preserves the current one member per constituency representation model.
· It eliminates the need for tactical voting entirely if full ranking is mandatory and largely otherwise.
· Voters can make clear their first preference without fear of wasting their vote.
· All MPs would have the full or qualified support of a majority of their voters (NB Following the 2010 election 2/3 of MPs lacked majority support, the highest proportion ever.)
· It retains the same constituencies, avoiding the need to redraw boundaries, and there is no overt erosion of the constituency-MP link.
· It penalises extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.
· It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preference votes, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn't want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies.
· This is the system supported by the Electoral Reform Society giving it more credence.
The case against AV
· Seen as very limited in Proportional Representation (PR) terms, i.e. it may have little impact, at least initially, on the ratio of number of elected representatives to first-preference vote share and therefore not benefit smaller parties.
· Encourages candidates toward centrist policies in pursuit of second- and third-preference votes, thereby reducing real choice.
· Does not eliminate tactical voting if voters are allowed not to rank all the candidates, i.e. a candidate or party can advocate voting for them only, while the smaller parties are much more likely to receive votes from voters also expressing at least a second preference.
· A referendum this year may lessen the chances of a vote on alternatives at a later date.
· The coalition have tied the legislation to a boundary review aimed at reducing perceived Labour Party advantages and creating bigger constituencies/fewer MPs which is likely to favour the bigger parties.
Examples of AV in Practice
· Leadership elections for Labour and Liberal Democrats
· Elections for UK parliamentary officials including Select Committee Chairs.
· Elections for the Academy Award for Best Picture
· Australian House of Representatives.
· Millions of people in membership organisations, businesses and trade unions internal elections.
· Most Student Union elections.
· Irish Presidential election.
· Numerous American City, Mayoral and district elections.
Guardian editorial on AV referendum - "The alternative vote is only a small and, arguably, imperfect advance, as our reporting of it today shows, but it is also a development of huge political significance that is indispensable if the creaking and tainted system of Westminster politics is to be reinvigorated." See here.