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Time to change the voting system

by Richard Elen on 26 Apr, 2011

in Politics

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On 5 May in the UK, we’ll have a choice, via a ref­er­en­dum: whether to keep the “First Past The Post” vot­ing sys­tem – where the per­son who gets the most votes in an elec­tion wins, even if under half those who cast a vote actu­al­ly vot­ed for them – or instead opt for the fair­er “Alter­na­tive Vote” (AV) sys­tem, where you rank can­di­dates in order of pref­er­ence.

I am per­son­al­ly in favour of a ful­ly pro­por­tion­al sys­tem, but that’s not on the table. AV, how­ev­er, is a step for­ward and I’d urge read­ers to vote in favour. To find out more, click here.

I’ve heard an enor­mous amount of rub­bish about AV, main­ly from the “no” camp, and I am rather sur­prised that there is no mech­a­nism for hold­ing them to account for a cam­paign of what, in my view, amounts to a lot of lies and dis­tor­tion.

If you’d like to know which of the claims on both sides are fact, and which are fic­tion, check out Chan­nel 4’s FactCheck blog.

My nasty sus­pi­cion is that the “no” camp will win as a result of delib­er­ate­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ing what AV would mean. If you are also in favour of AV, I would appre­ci­ate it if you could do your best to stop that hap­pen­ing, and help peo­ple under­stand how it works.

There must be some­thing in it, too, because it’s used for vir­tu­al­ly every oth­er type of UK elec­tion: elect­ing May­ors, elect­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Scot­tish and Welsh Par­lia­ments, and choos­ing the Leader of not only the Labour Par­ty but (via a close rel­a­tive of AV) the Tories as well. It’s even used to elect hered­i­tary peers in the House of Lords (hon­est!).

So for­get the erro­neous protes­ta­tions of the nay-say­ers and try this instead. The truth is, AV is real­ly sim­ple. When you go to the polls, you rank the can­di­dates in order of pref­er­ence until it does­n’t mat­ter to you any more. That’s it. Or as some­one rather more graph­i­cal­ly put it, imag­ine all the can­di­dates are trapped in a burn­ing build­ing. In what order would you pre­fer them to be res­cued?

Dan Snow’s excel­lent video below clear­ly explains why AV is a good idea and how it works.

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