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The Alternative Vote System

Updated on May 23, 2014

The Alternative Vote System - also referred to as AV, instant-runoff voting (IRV), transferable vote, ranked choice voting, or preferential voting - is an attempt to achieve a more accurate interpretation of what voters are actually voting for.

This scheme was voted on in England and Wales in 2011, as a replacement for the traditional first-past-the-post system, which is used also by the vast majority of democracies across the world. The outcome of that vote was that the first-past-the-post system was retained.

The reasoning behind the first-past-the-post system is simple – that the person who gets the most votes is plainly the favourite, whereas in whatever cases the AV System made any difference the favourite would not be elected.

The cost of an election under an Alternate Vote system in Britain is estimated at £250 million. This is about the same as for the first-past-the-post system.

Make your vote count.
Make your vote count. | Source

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Intended benefits

The Alternative Vote System is intended to address the matter that many elected councillors and MPs who, while attracting the largest vote as the first choice, are disliked so much and by so many other people that their election polarises the political system and the nation.

It is directed at a scenario where a candidate is elected by a strong, though minority, vote over other candidates with broader appeal who between them had split the majority vote.

An MP elected by the AV System would by definition be far more acceptable to their total electorate, not merely to their supporters. If a candidate were not an outstanding choice then they would likely be no one’s favourite yet they might be recognised in due course as the natural compromise. After all, unless we agree on the candidate selected then a compromise could the next best solution.

Naturally, the benefit of AV voting should not be merely that we might have nicer people in Parliament, but that the elected MPs comprise a government and opposition that will more closely represent the will, and more effectively meet the needs, of the people.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is that each individual will more likely elect an MP closer to their needs more of the time.

MPs at work in the House of Commons, UK Parliament. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament
MPs at work in the House of Commons, UK Parliament. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament | Source

Effect on the political parties

Where there is a decisive shift in voting patterns the major political parties will, of course, adapt quickly by selecting as candidates people who would more likely be elected. They will be more inclined to select candidates with a much broader appeal, in order to maximise their votes. Therefore, the political parties themselves will have to change, since they will be represented by the elected Members of Parliament. Those MPs will have more broadly acceptable views, and the parties' policies will have to change. Perhaps the parties' relationships with their major supporters will change, and they might find different supporters.

How alternative voting works

As I have seen several different explanations on this topic - and surely they cannot all be right - I can only direct you to a site that I am sure must be correct:

Weighing it up

Would all this trouble and expenditure really be worthwhile to choose those who would direct the structure of a nation and its infrastructure, the well-being of and opportunities for the people, and the path that a nation might follow?

© 2011 Peter Ray


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