On May 5, everyone will be asked to take part in a referendum to change the way we vote in general elections. But how many students really understand the issues at stake?

AV explained: what you need to know about a referendum to change the way we vote

On entering the coalition, David Cameron knew that it would come with a price – a price is called AV. 

AV is an alternative voting system which is used in some countries like Australia.

It promises to be a more democratic way of voting than the current system, First Past The Post, but this is hotly disputed by its opponents.

The two opposing campaigns, No to AV and Yes to fairer votes, can broadly be said to be led by Conservatives versus Labour and Liberal Democrats, though some party representatives have sided with the other camp.

On May 5, the bitter campaigns will come to a close and the public will finally be asked to decide whether they want to change the way they vote in general elections or stick to it.

At general elections using FPTP voters have to vote for one candidate only, to represent them in their constituency. The candidate with the highest amount of votes wins, the rest lose all.

Under AV, instead of putting a cross against one candidate only, voters can vote for as many as they like but have to number them in order of preference.

The winner, and only representative of the constituency, is the person who gets more than 50 per cent in the first round.

If no one gets over 50 per cent candidate with the lowest amount of votes gets struck off and his second choice votes get re-distributed to the remaining candidates.

Jason Alecock from the Liberal Democrat Society, which is in favour of AV, said: “AV will give greater chance to your vote in the parliamentary elections to actually count.

“In my local constituency for example, more voters voted against the Conservative candidate but due to the current first past the post system the Conservative candidate was elected.

“AV is more democratic, as it gives more chance of producing a poll result that is by far more representative of constituents.”

But the main issue with AV, apart from that it seems complicated at first glance, is that still only one person gets elected in the end, hence it does not offer fully proportional representation

The result is therefore only notionally more representative. Actually, the person with the most votes might not end up winning the seat at all if he/she does not reach 50 per cent.

This poses the question whether the estimated £250m that may have to be spent on changing and modernising the system, as stated by AV opponents, would be better spent on public services.

Luke Hilton Pierce, from the Conservative Society, which campaigns for a ‘No’ vote, said: “Our committee and members believe that the use of the Alternative Vote system will make the voting procedure far more complex and ergo more expensive.

“The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250m. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns.

“With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money bringing in a new voting system?”

However, yes campaigners, as well as denying these costs and the need for counting machines altogether, say that it is politically very important to take the first step towards ridding the country of its antiquated voting system.

Campaigning paper, The Independent on Sunday, said in its editorial: “The Independent on Sunday believes that AV allows us to vote for what we really believe in, without having to calculate the tactical position and risk wasting our vote.

“It ensures that an MP cannot be elected against the wishes of a constituency, because the winner has to represent a majority of votes that express a preference.

“In our view, the primary argument for reform is that it gives more power, choice and freedom of democratic expression to the voter.”

Former Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, said at the Radio 5 Live debate that AV was a great chance to get rid of the old voting system, which “gives the most perverse results”.

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One comment

  1. My concern with AV is that some people will get two or more votes and some only one vote; if one person votes for a a candidate that gets knocked out in the first round then their second preference will be then counted but another person that votes for a successful candidate in the first round will not have their second preference counted until their first candidate is ‘knocked out’. So the voter for the less popular candidate will have had two votes in the second round and the other only one vote. To me that isn’t democratic!

     

    “In my local constituency for example, more voters voted against the Conservative candidate but due to the current first past the post system the Conservative candidate was elected.”

    Most if not everybody votes for someone not against them in the current system, so saying it like this is misleading. 

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