To AV or not to AV

Personally AV makes perfect sense to me, though it does not really solve some of the problems with electoral systems.

For a start, the idea that the population at large can make a sensible decision on who would run the county is just not sensible. Whilst there are a lot of people that can think about things rationally, and given accurate impartial information, can make a sensible informed decision, the majority cannot. Sadly most of us decide based on what the media feeds us and what our peers think, and decide based on that. We decide on a party, typically, and then tick the box for that candidate. We are not picking a person to represent us - we are picking someone to count as a number in the battle to make a government. Even intelligent people do not have the experience and training to decide how things should be run as the decisions the government makes are complex and very different to typical normal life. It is mad that we let untrained people become MPs and run the country in the first place! It is not a sane system. The truth is though that democracy is about the best system we can come up with and certainly better than the alternatives that have been tried (well, in my opinion anyway).

So, AV or not AV? Well it seems clear to me that AV is fairer. It is hard to see how anyone could say otherwise. Simply saying "this is my first choice and this is my second choice" seems sensible to me. People often have a preference for 2nd choice, or perhaps more often a preference for who they definitely do not want to win, so will give the other candidates as a 2nd choice.

Of course, if we get AV, and you don't like it, you can always just mark the "1" candidate. You don't have to have a 2nd choice. You can chose to have your vote thrown away if it is not for the winner. If you don't like that idea, then you definitely want AV!

At least with AV there is a good chance that anyone who does win was actually voted for by more than 50% of the voters even if not as their 1st choice.

The other possibility is that you can have a proper choice of candidate. Right now you would never see more than one candidate for any of the parties as that would split the vote. With AV you can, and I hope we will see that. A lot of people vote for a party and not a candidate - wouldn't it be nice to pick the person as well - to decide which of the candidates for your chosen party you think can do a better job, and put the other candidate for the same party as 2nd choice?

Lets see how it goes. I wonder if I should put Yes:1 No:2 as my answer to the referendum ? :-)


  1. Democracy seems to be inherently flawed when you let people with no understanding of the issues vote.. but TBH I can't think of an alternative that doesn't end up with a minority ruling the majority.

    At least voting for MPs means that we're voting for someone who's paid to actually think rather than vote for the daily mail's latest rant (although watching the DEB debate showed they still vote blindly - and blind drunk - anyway).

    AV seems to me to be a horrible compromise, but it's better than FTTP, and the alternative is the AV vote is trotted out as a reason 'nobody wants voting reform' every time alternative systems are mentioned for the next 30 years.

    Alas I don't think we get much say. The tabloids have spoken, and they're against it. The sheeple will vote no because they're convinced AV will let the BNP into government or cost 100 billion pounds or something.. and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.

  2. I mostly like the idea of AV in general, but my main concern is that it leads to coalition governments (given experience in other countries) which I believe to be less democratic than single-party-elected governments (where a coalition of like-minded people form a political party *before* the election rather than, having security some seats, fool around without voter approval after the election to form a government).

    I previously dumped some thoughts into http://www.hawaga.org.uk/ben/av-essay.txt - but it basically says what I said above.

  3. Maybe the voting paper should have a sheet of a few intelligence or reasoning logic questions first and the vote only counts if you get those right...

  4. And you are not told if your vote counted or not so the populous can get a fuzzy feeling that they did something useful.

  5. I'm not sure AV will really effect the number of coalition governments.. the swings that cause shifts in government in the UK tend to be pretty decisive.
    Rather than quote stats I googled a link with them in :p

  6. The other thing that occurs is if AV really doesn't work then all we have to do is tell people to go back to putting 'x' instead of numbers. It's a practically zero cost transition.. the main cost going *to* AV is education (because David Cameron does have a point - some of the voters really *are* too stupid to work out how to count to 3).

  7. With AV, I would hope someone marking a single X is counted as "1"

    Maybe that is a reassurance they could make!

  8. AV or not, there's no way for me to indicate that I'm not lazy or stupid, I just don't have any confidence in any candidate.

    If I stay at home and don't bother, I'm "Lazy/Apathetic"

    If I spoil the paper, I'm "Too Stupid to put a tick in a box"

    There needs to be a "No confidence in any of the above" box.

    Only problem is, what if that box wins ;-)

  9. Tony:
    > the swings that cause shifts in government
    > in the UK tend to be pretty decisive.

    People vote in the UK in a way that matches up with the electoral system (FPTP) and only vote for those two parties really.

    I don't believe at all that the UK-as-a-whole is somehow fundamentally different from any other western european country (or even different from the constituent countries within the UK that have more proportional systems). It will vote in way that means there *will* be smaller parties and more (credible ones that get seats) than there are now.

    Look at for example, the netherlands, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Representatives_of_the_Netherlands (the party breakdown is about 2/3rds of the way down), or northern ireland or scotland or the bundestag.

  10. Karl: NUS elections (one of which I won with 16 votes total out of a constituency of 4000 or so) had a RON candidate (for Re-Open Nominations) - I guess that's what you want?

    US elections also have a write-in box - you can write down anyone you want rather than being limited to the people listed as standing.

  11. I think the biggest issue is that MPs combine two functions - they are both there to represent the constituency in parliament, and also to vote on issues of importance to the country as a whole, as such it's always difficult to know how to vote, as often the person you feel would best represent the constituency might be a member of a party whose views you don't agree with on the national level. It also means true proportional representation is difficult, as you then lose the constituency link.

    This will never happen of course, but what would be the answer I think is to have a system where you elect a constituency MP (using FPTP or AV, doesn't make a huge difference in this scenario), and that house handles issues relevant to constituencies etc, and then we use PR to elect a second group of people (perhaps as a replacement for the House of Lords) who handle national issues...

  12. Alex:

    I've seen a proposal (in http://www.jdawiseman.com/papers/electsys/pr2.html) about combining nationwide PR with constituency-tied MPs: nationwide PR is used to decide how many MPs a party gets, and then those are assigned to constituencies to maximise how many people in that constituency voted for that candidate. (see the 7th bullet point at the top of the url)

    pr2 squared is pretty interesting as a system - although I don't particularly advocate its use, it has some interesting approaches to dealing with common criticisms of different voting systems.

    although doesn't satisfy my core complaint that coalition governments will be more likely...

  13. This paper: http://www.psa.ac.uk/PSAPubs/TheAlternativeVoteBriefingPaper.pdf

    has some good analysis, including looking at the experiences of other countries with coalitions.

    But sadly, the thing that I've noticed most during this campaign period is this:
    - The "Yes" campaign tries to explain why AV is better. I suspect it's run by grassroots people who care about the issue.
    - The "No" campaign doesn't bother justifying its position, it just spreads FUD about AV. I suspect it's run by seasoned political professionals, who know what works.

  14. Read my thoughts on the matter at http://w.psimonkey.org.uk/avblog/

    Woo, I'm part of web 2.0 now! Not sure whether to feel proud or dirty...

  15. This argument for "strong, decisive" government... look at where the UK was in 1950 and look where it is now. Then cast your eye over Germany over the same period with it's predominantly "weak coalition" government. Who wouldn't prefer that outcome (remember too that they took on East Germany - this country would be doing well to take on something the size of Eastbourne without collapse).

    Conversely one could point to Belgium where coalition government is a farce - mind you without a government they seem to be getting on ok... (maybe because there's nobody to be driving through asinine laws).

  16. Someone's thoughts on all of this are quite nice...

  17. The Paper boy: yes, I think the "no government at all" option is quite interesting - countries seem to do surprisingly well in the mid-term without something that is allegedly so vital

  18. It would be a brave party that puts up more than one candidate in a single seat constituency. We need STV (i.e. multi-member constituencys) for that to work, as second and subsequent prefs are only counted when the weakest candidate is excluded. The two colleague might well remain in the race, their second prefs uncounted, until ther main rival amasses the 50%+1 needed to win. there is no look ahead, or, as there would be in most forms of STV, a redistribution of votes in excess of the quota.

  19. From what I gather from inside sources and "Yes, Minister" is that MP's do very little to steer government business other than sign-off recommendations (and participate in media-led knee-jerk political law-making)

    I'm with Paperboy, let's not have government for a while and see if anything actually changes for the worse!


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