Alternative Vote

Tomorrow the UK will go to the polls to decide whether we want to replace our current “First Past The Post” voting system with the Alternative Vote. Before you go to the polling station, I’d like to take some time to correct some misinformation that seems to have inadvertently been spread by various members of the No campaign.

Switching to AV will cost £250m

There’s a No campaign leaflet which breaks down this figure. Which is handy for our purposes.

£91m for the referendum. Well that’s already taking place, so we’re not getting that back. If the No campaign win, we won’t get that money back.

£130m for electronic voting machines. That’s electronic voting machines that no-one outside the No campaign has suggested that we would need.

£26m on voter education. Well, maybe. That’s about 50p per voter.

And there’s £3m which they haven’t bothered to explain.

So the true cost is likely to be about a tenth of what the No campaign claim.

Some people’s votes will be counted multiple times

This seems to be the one that really scares people. And if it was true, it would be a serious problem with the AV system.

It’s not true, of course. People’s votes aren’t counted multiple times, they are reallocated.

It might help to think of it as a series of votes rather than one vote. In round one, people’s first preference votes are counted. If no candidate reaches 50% of the vote we have another round of voting. Everyone votes for the same person as they voted for in the first round – except for the people who voted for the candidate who came last. Their votes are reallocated to their second preference candidate.

So in each round, every person gets a vote. Every person’s vote gets counted exactly the same number of times. It’s one person one vote per round.

AV Leads to more coalitions

We are definitely heading towards more coalitions. But that has little to do with our voting system and a lot to do with the way that the political landscape has changed in the UK.

In a two-party system it’s easy to get a definitive win in a general election. But we no longer have a two-party system in the UK. No matter what the Conservative and Labour parties want you to believe, we now have three major parties and many other parties who people want to vote for.

This is what will lead to more coalitions. The fragmentation of the electorate, not the voting system. Do people really need reminding that we currently have our first coalition government for decades and that was elected under the FPTP system.

This is actually the best argument in favour of AV. We’ve effectively had a two-party system for two hundred years.But that is changing. People want more choice. And we need a voting system that reflects that.

No-one really wants AV

Actually, it’s hard to argue with that. The vast majority of people who are campaigning for the Yes campaign would far rather have some other, more proportional, system. But the No campaign take that fact and suggest that we shouldn’t support a system that we don’t want. That we should hold out for a change to a system that we really want.

That’s nonsense though. This is the first chance we’ve had to reform our electoral system in living memory. A No vote won’t be interpreted as a vote for a truly proportional system over AV. No, it will be interpreted as support for the status quo. A No vote will effectively take electoral reform off the government’s agenda for a generation.

AV might not be what we really want, but it’s a step, however small, in the right direction. It shows an appetite for reform. It shows that we aren’t happy with the current system.

Of course, there are some people who are perfectly happy with the current system. These are the people who do well out of it. The two main parties who get exaggerated majorities out of it. The only reasonable argument I’ve heard for keeping FPTP is those parties admitting that they don’t want to give up the advantage that it gives them.

Don’t let them get away with that. Please show them that you care about politics in this country. Show them that you support change.

Please vote Yes to AV on Thursday.


  1. I care about politics in this country, I support change. But this one? And by not supporting this one does that mean I don’t care about politics (and don’t support change)?

    For me, that sums up the ‘Yes’ campaign, it seems (yeah, yeah, I *know* their, and your, arguments are well laid out) to come across as emotional blackmail almost, a child stomping their feet ‘we want this, and we will cry if we don’t get it’.

    I mean, the whole tenor of ‘you must be stupid, illiterate and the worst kind of reactionary if you don’t vote yes’ alienates much of the country. Do I like to be called (or implied to be called) all that? Does that engage me?

    A missed opportunity from the Yes camp. Certainly didn’t engage me, but then again, neither did the halfwit No lot.

  2. What does not come across in the pamphlets without reading closely is that votes can be lost at each stage of the re-counting. The ”winner” only requires 50% of the REMAINING votes and this means that fewer people will end up having a bigger and bigger level of impact on the outcome of the election at each stage of re-counting. I have a hard enough time making a choice of which of the candidates is the least evil without having to rank others as 2nd, 3rd and so on.

    Seems to me that this whole process is confusing and not in the best interest of the majority.

    Winning 50% of the remaining votes is not the same as winning 50% of the total.


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