I got a leaflet through my door the other day from the No to AV people. For background, the Liberal Democrats wanted electoral reform, and the Tories didn’t, and as a compromise in the coalition agreement, they decided to have a referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which noone really wanted anyway.
There are a few lies that have been spread, not only through leaflets like the one I received, but also online and in the press, but there’s one in particular that I want to put straight to bed. That is the argument that “under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected.” It’s been illustrated in several ways but in the leaflet I received it had a picture of a finish line of a race, and an arrow pointing to the last person saying “the winner under AV”. Here’s a similar poster:
Now this is extremely misleading. I agree, and I’m sure everyone in the Yes to AV campaign would agree, that the AV system shouldn’t be used in trying to determine who can run fastest or box better. But in politics, we are not trying to determine that, we are trying to find the candidate who represents the views of the constituency the best, and that isn’t necessarily someone who get the plurality of the votes.
Let’s have a very hypothetical example. In Racistville, Sussex, there are 4 candidates: the BNP, the Greens, the Lib Dems, and Labour. The BNP get 30% of the vote, the Lib Dems get 25%, Labour get 25% and the Greens get 20%. Under the current system (probably one of the least democratic in the world), the BNP would win. Does that mean that the BNP best represent the views of the people in Racistville? Of course not! The policies of the other parties are much more similar to each other than to the policies of the BNP. Now I’m using the BNP specifically for that purpose, because it’s very obvious, but the same is true in all constituencies. I would imagine the BNP would be the last preference of all the other voters.
By taking second and third preferences into account, we can find a candidate that everyone is ok with, rather than a candidate that a minority prefers, but the majority might hate.
This cartoon explains it quite well:
I’ll be voting for AV, if only because it means I won’t have to keep voting Labour just to keep the Tories out. My constituency is a Labour/Tory marginal, and if I voted for the party I actually prefer (the Greens, at the minute), then that makes it easier for the Tories to get in. That’s the opposite of what I would want, so I’m forced to tactically vote. Under AV I wouldn’t have to.