On Thursday the UK held a referendum on whether it should use the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system. I didn’t hold much hope for an AV victory. While I believe AV is a preferable over the current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral voting system, FPTP is ok and democracy generally runs acceptably in Britain. It can be hard to get people out to vote on what can seem like a minor issue and hard to get people to want change when there doesn’t feel like a need for change. So with the political parties split and voting voluntary, I expected AV to lose, and it did – by a large margin. No problem. I’m not going to leave the UK over the electoral system, at least not when there are so many other good reasons to leave.
So what has made me care enough to write this, after the battle has been lost? The day after the election I received a circular promoting the “No to AV” campaign (good timing guys). There is an image of the circular on Flickr at this address. The third bullet point states that Australia wants to get rid of it’s AV-like electoral system. I left Australia 8 years ago, and I still read the Australia papers nearly every day. I have seen no mention at all of this – not from the press (even the Murdoch press) or friends. I can honestly say I have seen infinitely more support for WA succession (a fairly fringe position). After some investigation it seems that this view is based on a single survey – generally considered flawed. I can’t imagine there will be a referendum on voting system in Australia for many years. The rest of the flyer seems similarly dishonest. Many of the points based on the assumption that the person who gets the most votes is the “winner” and “best” candidate, which is clearly not true. Such a person has a plurality by definition, but “best” and “winner” are defined by the voting system used – which is the question at hand.
The reason I prefer AV is because it give a result more representative of the whole constituency, rather than just the plurality. Ignoring the possibility of Proportional Representation (which, to my mind, is a different argument entirely), if we assume constituency based democracy, where one person represents an geographic area, then it is better to have the person who most closely matches the views of the majority of constituents (or at least those that vote). If you disagree, well you are in the majority (in an election with only two options AV and FPTP are effectively the same). I just wish that the campaign to build that majority didn’t print bullshit.