Alternative vote referendum to take place in May | Young Academic Politics

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On 5th of May 2011, the UK public will decide whether to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system or stick with the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, as part of a referendum which could change the way we elect MPs to the House of Commons.

“Voters can still choose one candidate and ignore the remaining names (replicating the process of FTPT).”


The referendum was promised as part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement, and will mark the first time that the public have been given the opportunity to vote for a change in the method of general elections.

But with the referendum comes a new choice for the public; the alternative vote system.

Here’s how it works:

AV is a lot like first-past-the-post: it will still elect a single member for a constituency, but the big difference is preference.

Instead of putting an ‘X’ next to the chosen candidate, voters will be asked list candidates in order of preference.

A first preference candidate will be listed as ‘1’, and then other candidates can be given a number based on whether the voter thinks they deserve to be placed lower or higher than another candidate.

Voters can still choose one candidate and ignore the remaining names (replicating the process of FTPT).

The point of AV is that a candidate must achieve an overall majority of 50%.

If this is not achieved simply with first preference votes, then the second preference votes of the candidate who received the least amount of votes are redistributed.

This is repeated until someone achieves a majority.

Some factors to weigh up before the referendum:

  • MPs will get the support of a guaranteed majority of voters.
  • However, the complexities of the voting system mean that a candidate who receives the most first preference votes (the candidate who would have won under FTPT), might not be the candidate who wins the seat in the House of Commons.
  • The preference system could spell an end for extremist party candidates.
  • However, the preference system could end up giving these candidates more of a chance, if voters put them down as a one of their preferences (no matter how far down the list).
  • Votes are never wasted; if a person’s first preference candidate does not win, there is still a chance that another of their preferences could win.
  • However, in a constituency where one party has a larger share of the vote, preferences will make no difference if the candidate wins by overall majority in the first round of preferences.
  • Voters can use their second and third votes to their advantage if they are trying to avoid a certain candidate gaining power, eliminating the need for tactical voting.
  • However, as mentioned before, if a certain party has a large share of the vote in a constituency, second and third preferences will not matter.

The Electoral Reform Society has said that AV “represents a logical progression from first past the post.”

“Preserving the traditional one member, one constituency, it ensures all MPs have a real mandate while delivering greater choice and eliminating the need for tactical voting”.

But politicians (including those in power) differ on opinions in regards to AV.

Both Labour under Ed Miliband, and the Liberal Democrats under Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have come out in favor of AV.

The Conservatives, who agreed to the referendum as part of the coalition agreement, oppose the change in the electoral system.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that “the most worthless votes go to the most worthless candidates”.

And in a recent statement said “Think forward to the Olympics: Usain Bolt powers home in the 100m, when it comes to handing out the gold medal they give it to the person who came third. We wouldn’t do it in the Olympics, we shouldn’t do it in politics. We’ve got to vote no to this crazy system.”

But, on May 5th it will be the opinions of the public that will really matter.


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