Thursday, 14 April 2011

Should I vote YES or NO for Alternative Vote?

What? There's a referendum in two weeks' time?

Until just now, I honestly had no idea there is a referendum, and I thought I was fairly well clued up about these things.  Certainly around the time of the last general election, I was always catching up on news updates and following party broadcasts and what-have-you.

I even watched the mad new seminar-style group broadcast things (one of which was hosted nearby in Bristol, woo!). I laughed and sighed and groaned with the rest of the political mob until it was all over, and then added the various party leaders to my Facebook (and then promptly blocked them from my news feed).

But, a referendum?

My voting papers came through a few week ago and I thought it was some unknown council election.  (In fact, to make matters worse, I misread the date of the election and thought it was last Thursday - I did wonder why I hadn't received any of the usual party election pamphlets through my door!  Thankfully, my wife was more switched on and reminded me before I walked the half-mile to the voting station five weeks early...).

So there's an election on the 5th of May.

According to The One Show from 14/04/2011 (you should be able to view the thing here from shortly after now, until next week:, the new AV or "Alternative Vote" offers an alternative to the current First Past the Post system in use in England (I think it's just England - someone correct me if it includes the other kingdoms...).

I've also looked up and discovered the following site, which goes into some more detail:  This site seems to be solely focussed on convincing people to vote "Yes", which would be a vote for the new system.

I then did a bit more searching (I typed "alternative vote" (without quotes) into Google... King searcher, me...) and dragged up this site:  Which seems to be much more impartial in its information.

Here's a picture to keep you interested.  I totally stole it from a hapless website somewhere on Google Image Search:

Anyway, back to the question: Should I vote YES or NO for Alternative Vote?

Well first, let's look at the two types of voting on offer:
  1. First Past the Post
    This is the current system.  Voters vote for the single candidate they think is best; votes are counted; the candidate with the highest number of votes (regardless of the number of votes, or the percentage of votes) wins the seat; the seats are counted; the party with 51% (or more) of the seats wins the election (and then if no party wins a straight 51%, we drop into coalition territory, etc.).
  2. Alternative Vote
    This is the proposed new system.  Voters vote for the candidates they like, in order of preference (numbered 1 to N where 1 is their first choice and N represents the number of their least favourite choice)... This is when it gets a bit complicated...
    1. The "first choice" votes are counted (this means the votes marked with a 1).
    2. If a candidate has 51% or more of the votes after step 1, they win the seat... BUT...
    3. If no candidate has 51% or more of the votes after step 1, then the candidate with the least number of votes in step 1 is removed from the list and THEIR VOTES are then counted again... only this time for the "second choice" (this means the votes marked with a 2 are counted this time)

      NOTE: Only the votes from the candidate that has been removed will be re-counted...!
    4. If a candidate has 51% or more of the votes after step 3, they win the seat... BUT... if not, then the candidate with the lowest vote in step 3 is removed from the list and THEIR VOTES are then counted again (in the same way as for step 3)...
    5. This process repeats until a candidate has 51% of the vote.
  3. ; the seats are counted; the party with 51% (or more) of the seats wins the election (and then if no party wins a straight 51%, we drop into coalition territory, etc.) (same as First Past the Post)
Did you get that?  If not, see the video on that aboutmyvote site; very helpful.

By this stage, you should know something about both voting types - you may even have made a decision, based on what you know, and might choose not to read the rest of this blog entry.  But if you wish to proceed to hear my opinions on this, please feel free to keep reading.  And feel free to give your response at the bottom, too.

WARNING... Below this line, I cease being impartial.

Should I vote YES or NO for Alternative Vote?

Well it's a tricky question.  You see, the thing is, the current system of First Past the Post can be unfair: It leads to "tactical voting", which is:

When someone will not vote for the party they really think should get into power, because they think their vote will get lost among the millions of other votes for other parties, so they vote for the main opposition of the party they think definitely shouldn't get into power.

By the way, I just totally made that definition of tactical voting up from my own brain... you like?

This "tactical voting" generally means that only the main parties have a chance, because so many people are voting for the obvious non-bad-guys, rather than "wasting" their vote on the person they really think should get in.

OK, so that's obviously not great.  But you have to ask yourself this (and this may be fairly controversial, so bear with me here): If you're a budding politician, why join a party that probably has no chance of getting into power? The reason is because you want the thrill of the election and the party feeling and the family... but you don't actually want to be a leader.  Don't get me wrong - people from minority parties can and do make a real difference.  They provide a voice for opposition, they question the current processes and policies and they keep the actual leaders on their toes.  But the point is...

In the current system, everyone knows where they stand.  Minority party representatives know that they have a small chance of becoming local leader, and, if they make it that far, they'll likely be in opposition seats in government.  Majority reps know they have a tough battle and a strong chance of being in government and are, therefore, more likely to be the kind of person who aspire to lead and rise to the struggle.

So, that's my first argument against changing the system... With "Alternative Vote", the rules change.  Period.  No-one knows how the English voters will select their second and third choices... It's gonna be frikkin' CHAOS MAN!?!1

Maybe that's not such a good reason, eh?  Now I come to think of it, voting against change is what old fogies do.

Now for my second reason... I just saw a Yes Campaign broadcast on TV... You can see it here:

I think I should just leave it at that... If you would like me to explain why I think that's a reason why I'm definitely not voting Yes at the referendum, please feel free to get in touch via your normal method of communication (except interpretive dance... Please don't contact me via interpretive dance; all my interpretive dance channels are full and I cannot accept any more interpretive dance messages, thank you).  I'm more than happy to explain why I don't like fucking socialist propaganda any time.

My third reason is fairly easy to understand: Currently, anyone can vote.  You just walk up to the booth.  Grab a piece of paper and "Make your mark".  Awesome.  You barely even need to know what the pretty words say, let alone how to write.  However, under the new system, you're supposed to not only have prior knowledge of your potential candidates, but you have to rank them... in order...  This means the following problems are very likely to crop up:
  • Anyone without a basic knowledge of mathematics (i.e. counting from 1 to 5) will no longer be able to vote.  Now that's a bit harsh, right?
  • Fewer people will vote! Who wants to think when they vote?  Just thought I'd throw it out there...
  • Undoubtedly, if you go up to someone and say "How fucking ugly am I, from 1 to 10?", the first thing they'll say is "Which one is the most ugly; 1 or 10?".  Well, maybe not the first thing...  But in the question of voting, this is serious!  If you get 20% of people putting their preferred candidate at number 5 ("I'm gonna give 'im LOTDSA POINTZZ!"), 50% of people putting their preferred candidate at number 1 ("First choice.. number 1") and the rest using Roman numerals or some other invalid metric, you're bound to have problems.  But the worst thing is you won't even know! At least in the old system it was obvious when you had fouled papers...
Those are just some of my reservations about a ranked ballot system.

My fourth reason (I'm really getting into the swing of this) is slightly more serious.  In fact, it's almost... mathematical.  Look away now, lest your left big toe fall off.

You may wish to turn this on whilst reading the rest of this post:

Simply put... the new system is mathematically unfair.  Essentially, your vote will only count once if you vote for the most popular person as your first choice, but will count more than once if you vote for the least popular person first, then the second least popular person... etc.

I haven't thought about this long enough to work out the exact possibilities with regards to vote fixing or whatever, but I'm pretty sure some people getting more votes than others is, like, just wrong!


OK, so I've been trying to think about a situation for about 20 minutes now... It might not look like a long time, because there's only a small gap there, but it's been 20 minutes, trust me...

If there's 100 people and 25 of them vote Candidate A for their first choice and 30 of them vote Candidate B for their first choice and 35 of them vote Candidate C for their first choice, and 10 of them vote Candidate D for their first choice, you'd get:

Candidate A: 25 votes (25%)
Candidate B: 30 votes (30%)
Candidate C: 35 votes (35%)
Candidate D: 10 votes (10%)

So, candidate D drops off, but say 3 of Candidate Ds voted for Candidate A as their second choice, and the rest of them didn't vote:

Candidate A: 28 votes (30.1%)*
Candidate B: 30 votes (32.3%)*
Candidate C: 35 votes (37.6%)*

Now Candidate As disappear.  Let's say they half of them voted for candidate D as their third choice (i.e. their vote didn't count) and half of them voted for Candidate C for their third choice... that would mean you have:

Candidate B: 30 votes (38%)*
Candidate C: 49 votes (62%)*

*%age based on number of remaining votes

So Candidate C wins the vote...  But let's suppose that everyone who put Candidate B as their first choice put Candidate A as their second choice...  People who voted for Candidate A as their first choice never got a say in the second round of counting!  This literally means that those votes for A didn't get counted.

*looks pleased with himself*

Would it be fairer if all votes for the second round were added up?  Perhaps...  But... if you think about it... if you take all votes for Candidate A (over all rounds), all votes for Candidate  B (over all rounds), all votes for Candidate C (over all rounds) and all votes for Candidate D (over all rounds) and added them up... and then awarded the seat to the person with the most votes... wouldn't that be the same as First Past the Post?


LordScree takes no responsibility for any damage caused by rage induced whilst reading this post.

Last edited by LordScree at 22:16 after his wife told him that there were some mistakes in the final example (sorry if you were reading this at the time)

1 comment:

  1. I just realised (I was lying awake at about 06:45 this morning thinking about it...) that if you take all the votes from the "first choice" and count them as "4 points", then take all the votes from the "second choice" and count them as "3 points" and then take all the votes from the "third choice" (.. I think you can see where this is going). ALL votes are then counted, but the weighting means that the order of the choices means something, so it's no longer entirely First Past the Post. This helps to alleviate the problems mentioned in my Point #4. Unfortunately, I think it's too late for me to be able to do anything about it.