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Alternative Vote (AV) - explaining and an example

There's been a spritied discussion going on about the AV system in the press, and on places like twitter feeds. And as the discussions move from spiritied to passionate, some of the things said become personal attacks, some of the claims made become unsustainable, and some of the speakers forget that most of their audinece isn't as well versed in the subject as they are, so their words (beyond) the personal attacks are lost, and the unsustainable claims cannot be tested by the people who need to test them - the voters.

And yet ... talk more widely to people, and there's a great deal of apathy around. "Why are we wasting money on this", a lack of knowledge as to what an "Alternative vote" system would mean, and an expected tendency for people to follow the lead of their political party in deciding how to vote.

What is going on in the UK?

On 5th May, all voters in the UK may go to the polls and vote on the "Alternavive Vote".

We have voted in 650(ish) individual areas - constituencies - for a single member of parliament (MP) to represent us for the following period of up to five years. Constituency boundaries are redrawn from time to time to take account of moving populations, so that each repreents about the saem number of people an (as a secondary thing, it sometimes seems) is a logical grouping of populations.

Until now, no matter how many candidates have been on offer each voter selects just one of them, and whichever candidate gets the most votes wins the seat. This is known as the "First Past the Post" system, and if you want to retain it you should vote NO on 5th May.

Under the newly offered "Alternative Vote" system, you rank candidates. The one you most want to be your MP gets vote number "1", then you rank others "2", "3" and so on - rank as few or as many as you like. All first preference votes are counted initially, and if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated, with his/her votes going to the next choice on each voter's list. And the process is repeated until one candidate has over 50% of the votes. That candidate is then elected.

Have you an example of how that might work?

Here's what happened in the constituency in which I voted at the last election - Chippenham.

CandidateParty Votes
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 21500
FLETCHER Samantha The Green Party 446
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 23970
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate3620
MAGUIRE Jon English Democrats 307
REID Julia UK Independence Party 1783
SEXTON Richard Graham The Christian Party 118
SIMPKINS Michael British National Party 641
Spoiled votes 58

Here's what MIGHT have happened with a single alternative vote system - looking initially at first choice votes:

CandidateParty First votes
DANSBY GeraldineWessex Independent Party670
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 20010
FLETCHER Samantha The Green Party 2440
FRANDSEN Jamie Independent320
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 19175
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 4501
MAGUIRE Jon English Democrats 705
REID Julia UK Independence Party 2371
SEXTON Richard Graham The Christian Party 405
SIMPKINS Michael British National Party 1644
Spoiled votes 202

Now - that's a guess, but an educated one; I saw seven of the eight canddates at the hustings, corresponded with the eighth, and have met 3 of the candidates - in two cases quite extensively. I have added two name (Random - see [here]) as I would expect to see a broader field of candidates, and I have redistributed the (first preference) votes.

Vote redistribution is largely at the expense of the parties that are most likely to win in this area, and you'll note that the main beneficiaries of this initial redistribution are Labour, Green, UKIP and BNP. Green has done especially well - Samantha was an impressive candidate, but as Duncan Hames also has excellent environmental credentials, in a first past the post system many people probably voted for him ("tactically") rather than for Samantha. I would normally expect the BNP to gain from the Conservatives at this early stage, except that our Conservative candidate was born outside the UK. I have also spoiled a few more papers, as I would expect a few more people to make a mess of things.

For the purpose of illustration, the number of votes case remains the same - 52445.

OK - let's start eliminating canddates from the least popular:

Jamie Frandsen is eliminated, and his votes transferred to next choice.

CandidateParty After One Elimination:
DANSBY GeraldineWessex Independent Party720
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 20070
FLETCHER Samantha The Green Party 2525
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 19254
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 4522
MAGUIRE Jon English Democrats 709
REID Julia UK Independence Party 2374
SEXTON Richard Graham The Christian Party 406
SIMPKINS Michael British National Party 1644
All preferences eliminated 17
Spoiled votes 202

You'll note that some candidates have gained more than others here, though nearly everyone has picked up extra votes. And there's a new category for "all preferences eliminated" - for those people who just voted for Jamie and not for anyone else.

Let's move on. Next out is Graham Sexton, then (probably) Jon Maguire. Geraldine Dansby gains considerably as Jon Maguire had asked people to put her as their second choice, and Michael Simkins makes gains as one of the eliminated candidates in these two steps attracted similar people.

CandidateParty After three Eliminations:
DANSBY GeraldineWessex Independent Party1164
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 20235
FLETCHER Samantha The Green Party 2669
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 19307
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 4588
REID Julia UK Independence Party 2449
SIMPKINS Michael British National Party 1742
All preferences eliminated 87
Spoiled votes 202

In spite of the big gains, Gerldine Dansby is the next candidate eliminated, and insufficient of her support goes to Michael Simkins to save him, so he's fifth to be elimitated.

CandidateParty After five Eliminations:
EMMANUEL-JONES WilfredThe Conservative Party Candidate20685
FLETCHER Samantha The Green Party 2704
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 20038
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 4921
REID Julia UK Independence Party 3672
All preferences eliminated 221
Spoiled votes 202

The various "independence" party votes have given Julia Reid a big boost, and she's overtaken Samantha Fletcher who is now the one with the lowest vote count, and eliminated:

CandidateParty After six Eliminations:
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 20784
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 21998
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 5431
REID Julia UK Independence Party 3772
All preferences eliminated 266
Spoiled votes 202

The biggest gains here were for Duncan Hames, who's very much more in line with Green policies than Wilfred Emmanual-Jones; a scattering of votes went to Greg Lovell and to Julia Reid, but not enough to save Julia from being the next to be eliminated.

CandidatePartyAfter seven Eliminations:
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 22344
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 22866
LOVELL Greg The Labour Party Candidate 6607
All preferences eliminated 424
Spoiled votes 202

There are still enough "live" votes with the third candidate for a redistribution of his votes to make a difference - so let's go ahead and do that:

CandidateParty After final Eliminations:
EMMANUEL-JONES Wilfred The Conservative Party Candidate 24427
HAMES Duncan JohnLiberal Democrats 26382
All preferences eliminated 1432
Spoiled votes 202

And so I can announce that Duncan John Hames has been duly elected as the representative for the Chippenham constituency.

Would it really work like that?

I don't know - and nor does anyone. Under two thirds of the voters across the UK votes at the last election (the third lowest proportion in the last 18 elections - see [here]), and it has been suggested that the lack of voting numbers is due to so many constituencies having been so much one-horse races that people didn't bother. So you may see a higher turnout. Or you may see a lower turnout based on the system not being clear to people.

Would the same system be used for elections to the Eurpoean Parliament, then?

No - for the European Parliament, we vote over a far wider area, and the seats are allocated to the parties based on the proportion of votes that each achieves. And that would not change. In the EU parliament, you do not have one member per seat - you have from 3 to 8 ...

So what are the advantages and disadvantages?

I'll follow on with those in a later post - I'm keeping this one purely as a detailed explanation of how the voting system would work, together with an example for my own area.
(written 2011-04-25)

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