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Why AV is Better than FPTP

On the 5th of May, we have an opportunity to change the way we vote for MPs. We should prefer the better system – even if AV is not perfect per se, if it is better than FPTP we should vote YES and if it is not, we should vote NO. For a democracy to function properly, it requires a voting system that is disinterested, universal, simple to understand and most accurately conveys the wishes of the voters.

Which System Will Most Hurt the BNP?

I must get this common concern out of the way from the outset. It is self-evident that if a system is biased towards a particular political party or view then it is not as democratic as a system that is not. Our argument should make no claims about the actual results of the voting system – i.e. if one system is likely to result in Party A getting in, unless the system was in some way rigged in favour of Party A then it cannot be objected to on those grounds. We might as well reject democracy completely if we want to argue in that way, and posit a static government controlled by our favourite representatives.

For this reason, both the YES and NO campaigns are wrong to argue that their system will hinder such parties as the BNP. It is irrelevant to the debate to make predictions about possible outcomes, and seriously unprincipled to try to design a system around our most revered and reviled politicians.

The Universality of Democracy

We are all wise enough now to know that a democratic society ought to give everybody the vote, regardless of race, gender, religion and so on. It is also clear that the options must not be limited, i.e. it should not be the case that we can vote for Parties A and B but not C, if C has a candidate in that constituency. It would discriminate against voters who preferred C, and would not be truly universal.

This brings me to the first problem with the status quo. There are certain candidates such that, if we were to vote for them, we would be ‘throwing our vote away’. This is a phrase that is far from uncommon and yet, if we really are throwing the vote away by voting for certain candidates then we really should not vote for them. We should vote for the party that stands a chance to win, either A or B but not C, for then we would be wasting our vote. This is a lot like the case I outlined above, only this time it is not a systemic mandate but rather an effect of that system.

Under AV, if I prefer Party C I can vote for Party C without worrying about the effect of my vote since, if the unthinkable happens and Party C lose, I can still have an effect on the final outcome. The NO campaign claims that this would mean the end of ‘one person, one vote’. The opposite is true. Under FPTP, once the party you voted for is eliminated, your vote is also eliminated. From that point on when, say Labour and Conservative candidates are battling it out, you literally have no say in the outcome. Under AV, even though the vote moves around, it is only in one place at any given time. It is only allocated to your second choice once it is eliminated with your first choice. Therefore, AV abides by ‘one person, one significant vote’ whereby FPTP has ‘one person, one possibly wasted vote’.

The NO Campaign’s Response:

Your vote isn’t ‘wasted’ if your preferred candidate didn’t win – it still gets counted in the same way as everyone else’s. There are winners and losers in every election, and that wouldn’t change under AV. In a seat where the MP wins with 51% of votes under AV, for example, 49% of votes would still be ‘wasted’ by the Yes campaign’s definition.”

[From http://www.no2av.org/why-vote-no/av-myth-busting/ ]

This response misunderstands the point. It is not claimed that if you lose, the vote is wasted. Rather, if you vote for a certain party, the vote is wasted. The NO response fails to address this.

The Simplicity of AV

Under FPTP, if the majority (50%+) vote for Party A, Party A wins. Under AV, if the majority vote for Party A (50%+) , Party A wins. Under FPTP, if all parties fail to win a majority, we have a hung parliament. It would be quite easy to make a NO2AV-style advertisement in which somebody tries very badly to explain this to a classroom of perplexed kids, who muse afterwards about how they cannot understand why the ‘winning’ party with 40% of the vote did not just assume power. However, I prefer arguing my case with actual arguments, which I’m sure will be seen as a deeply subversive tactic.

Under AV, if and only if no party wins a majority, the party with the least votes is eliminated and the lost votes are allocated to the voters’ second choices. This process is repeated until there is a majority.

That’s how simple it is. I never want to hear anybody say that it is complex ever again. I overheard a lady on the train saying (to paraphrase) “the current system is complex enough as it is – most people don’t know how to put an X in the box! Imagine if they had to put numbers in the boxes!” Aside from the egregious disrespect for her fellow citizens, if anybody did struggle with the process of ranking candidates in order of preference, they would be perfectly welcome to only select one candidate. Problem solved.

I Crossed the Line First, and Yet I Did Not Win!”

What is the purpose of voting in a democracy? Is it analogous to a sporting event, such as a horse race? To start with, the rules of a horse race are clear. Cross the line first without disqualification, and you win. Democracy is not a competition. We are not rewarding people for good work, or for crossing any line. We are selecting candidates who best represent the wishes of the voters.

To look at how it does this, I will look at a hypothetical case. It does not matter whether this reflects the current situation or not. If a voting system is fair, it should work across all possible situations. We should not tailor a system to the current political climate.

Suppose a country with three political parties. The North Party, the South Party and the Far South Party. Let us suppose that 40% of voters have south-leaning views, and that half of those voters consider themselves far-south. The remaining 60% are north-leaning, and half of those are far-north.

The votes are cast. The results are: North Party 60%, South Party 20%, Far-South Party 20%.

The North Party assumes power under both FPTP and AV.

Now let’s consider what would happen if, instead 40% of the voters were North-leaning and 60% were South-leaning.

The votes are cast. The results are: North Party 40%, South Party 31%, Far-South Party 29%.

FPTP: North Party wins, even though most voters are South-leaning. Far-South voters wasted their vote, and they should have voted for the South Party, even though they really wanted the Far-South Party.

AV: Far-South voters tended to vote for South Party as second choice, due to their similarities. Those votes pull the South Party up to 60%, and they rightly win the election. In this situation, a North Party government would have only represented a minority. They may have ‘won’ in the sporting sense, but democracy is too important to be treated like a little competition.

In Closing

Please consider which system produces results that most accurately reflect what the voters want. Do not think about the effect it may have on your favourite candidate, but consider a principled look at what democracy is really about. I invite you to share my view that AV is the superior system and, given that fact, we should vote YES in the referendum on 5th May.

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