The Alternative Vote System: So Simple That An Attempt To Write A Simple Description Of It Leads To A Complicated Debate

Tom Freeman questions one of the criticisms aimed against the Alternative Vote system (AV), which, in a referendum in May, citizens will be voting to adopt or reject in, er, preference to First Past The Post (FPTP) in UK elections. The criticism in question is that AV is too complicated and/or voters don’t/won’t understand how it works.

I am opposed to the adoption of AV. One of the main reasons I am opposed is that most of the people who will use it (including many of those who support its introduction) don’t understand the system; whereas nearly everyone on Earth understands FPTP. Call me “a conservative Right-winger who hates any form of change”, but I think that it is fundamental to the legitimacy of a democratic system that its voters know what their votes mean. Read the comments on Tom’s post to see how successful Tom has been in showing that AV is easy to understand.


  1. Posted 25Feb11 at 23:02 | Permalink

    People can’t understand “pick the candidates you want most, then next, until you run out of people you’d like?”.

    Considering how much tactical voting over the past decade, I think people are actually quite savvy. In the case of the European elections (where voting is by PR), the smaller parties gain greater shares of the votes than in national or local elections.

  2. David Ireland
    Posted 25Feb11 at 23:18 | Permalink

    My fellow Australians and I have managed to participate successfully in elections using two party preferred without much trouble. Only 5% of us vote informally, so that’s an upper bound on the number of Aussies who can’t manage it. AV is slightly simpler than two party preferred, so I think even a Pom can handle it.

  3. Dan Filson
    Posted 26Feb11 at 11:33 | Permalink

    It is absolute cobblers to suggest it is complex – the only problems arise when there are FPTP elections running concurrently. The true flaw of AV is that it does not solve much. There is little political demand for each MP to have the voting support of at least 50% of the electorate. On the other hand there is a deal of grievance that there are large chunks of the UK where certain parties get few if any MPs elected. I don’t think it is healthy for Conservative MPs to be thin on the ground in the north of England, nor for Labour MPs to be thin on the ground in the north of England. Little wonder that the respective parties focus more on their heartlands. The remedy is not AV nor STV (which permits the election of minority parties like the BNP and makes them very hard to ever defeat) but AV+. Yes, it means a hybrid system of some MPs having constituencies on a one-MP-per-constituency basis and others on a PR basis, but that will mean that wherever you live you succeed in getting someone in.

    I would by the way raise the lost deposit threshold back to 12.5% or similar – 5% is too low, i.m.h.o.

    The risk of the referendum is that whether a Yes or No prevails, this will end the debate on electoral systems for a generation. It was a bad coalition compromise that nobody wanted

  4. Posted 27Feb11 at 01:01 | Permalink

    My tuppence:

  5. Phomesy
    Posted 01Mar11 at 19:52 | Permalink

    I do believe this is first thing I’ve ever disagreed with you on, Pooter.

    But then I’m an Aussie. We know how simple and effective this system is.

  6. Alan Peakall
    Posted 01Mar11 at 23:31 | Permalink

    Dan, How serious is the risk of a BNP candidate being elected under STV? I would imagine that UK-wide STV would be on the basis of no seat having more than 5 members. The BNP’s best chance would probably be in a 4-member Potteries seat replacing the current 3 Stoke-on-Trent seats and the adjoining Newcastle-under-Lyme seat. After allowing for preferences, that would still appear a long shot.

  7. Brian Hughes
    Posted 03Mar11 at 13:35 | Permalink

    The best argument against AV is in the 1998 report by The Independent Commission on the Voting System.

    It concluded that AV on its own was unsuitable for Britain because it might increase rather than reduce disproportionality.

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