The referendum question itself was subject to a considerable degree of analysis (see Electoral Commission Report). Clearly the question presupposes that the voter understands what "Alternative Vote" is; what the claimed advantages and disadvantages are and how it will be applied in practice. These matters are far from simple though one thing is very clear: "Alternative Vote" (or AV) is NOT a proportional representation (PR) system. Political opinion is very divided on the issue but a commitment to a referendum appeared in the Coalition Agreement (Para 24 refers) thrashed out shortly after the 2010 General Election. The Electoral Commission must take whatever steps they think appropriate to promote public awareness about the referendum and how to vote in it and they may take whatever steps they think appropriate to provide, for persons entitled to vote in the referendum, information about each of the two voting systems referred to in the referendum question.
PVSCA Part 2 deals with the 600 constituency proposal. A reduction in the number of MPs will no doubt save some money but will reduce the accessibility of the constituency MP to many in the electorate and may have an adverse impact on the ability of the House of Commons to hold overactive Ministers to account. Article: The Guardian 4th March 2011.
- Voters mark candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference, using 1, 2, 3 etc. Voters may mark as many preferences as they wish, up to the number of candidates standing in the constituency at the election.
- The key principle is that votes should be counted to give effect to the preference or preferences that voters express when marking their ballot paper. (There may be more than one count)
- If, after the counting of voters’ first preferences, any candidate has more votes than the other candidates put together (ie more than 50% of the votes) then that candidate is elected
- If no candidate has more than 50% of the votes at this stage, then the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated. If those voters who picked that candidate as their first preference also expressed other preferences, then each vote originally allocated to the eliminated candidate is reallocated to the candidate remaining in the count that the voter ranked highest. (Note: Where a ballot paper does not express any further preferences, or the preferences relate to candidates who have already been eliminated, the ballot paper plays no further part in the counting). If a candidate has more than 50% of the votes left in the count once this reallocation of votes has taken place, the candidate is elected. If not, then a further round of counting will take place and the candidate now with fewest votes is eliminated and their votes reallocated. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the votes left in the count and is elected
The "alternative vote provisions" are very detailed and address matters such as "tied candidates" and how a decision to eliminate a candidate is to be made in that event. See Schedule 10 Part 1 para.7 for the detail.
Some links of interest: The Electoral Commission has published a considerable amount of information. The former Parliamentary Draftsman Francis Bennion has placed on Youtube his personal view of AV (worth a look). The Guardian has a graphical illustration of how it operates. An amusing illustration - (also on Youtube ) - shows a swimming team selecting their swimwear for the next season. This is not an entirely accurate representation of how AV would operate in practice because, in the illustration, there are effectively successive ballots. The lawyer, legal writer and blogger David Allen Green has published - "A Liberal case against the AV." The London School of Economics and Political Science has several interesting articles including - "Is AV a better voting system? It depends ..."
If AV is adopted, it is likely to be with us for a very long time to come. As things stand, it is not possible to estimate with any reasonable degree of certainty the outcome and it would be an almost pointless exercise attempting to do this for the present constituencies given that the Act seeks to reduce their number in time for the next general election (2015?). The referendum is therefore of very far reaching importance.
The serious student may wish to read House of Commons Briefing Paper 10/55 dated 1st September 2010.
ABOUT MY VOTE WEBSITE
Joshua Rozenberg - 6th April 2011: "AV and the future of coalition governments"