One Person, One Vote

First, let’s nail the lie.

Under the alternative vote, during counting, when a candidate is eliminated (as all but the winner eventually are, starting with the one with least votes) then each vote counts for the candidate who that voter has ranked the highest – and who is still in the running. If I’d voted for someone who had done so poorly they’d been eliminated, my vote would transfer to my next preference. If you’d voted for someone who was still in, your vote could still count for them. All votes count in the same way. The untruth that David Cameron and the No Campaign are peddling is that my vote would be counted “twice” and that I’d therefore have some sort of advantage over you, despite the fact your vote still counts for your first choice. It’s a complete fiction, a sleight of hand, wilfully taking advantage most voters’ lack of familiarity with AV. It is, in short, a contemptible lie.

But look beyond the lie, and you start to learn a little about the true attitudes of those who favour First Past the Post.

AV is about giving control to the voters. Seen from the electors’ perspective, it’s a small change to the current system that goes some way to ensure that in choosing an MP we don’t need to compromise between principles and tactics, and that we don’t rely on guesswork and gambling when we are making such a key decision. But listen to the language of the no campaigners. The issue they have is with the votes for the less successful candidates being transferred – but those votes never belonged to the candidate, they always belonged to the voter. No one but the elector who cast the vote has any say in where a vote for an unsuccessful candidate is transferred to. With First Past the Post all the votes for the candidate who came last are discarded; in effect this is that system’s way of punishing voters who were foolish enough to cast their ballot for someone who did not come close enough to winning – punished by having their vote thrown away.

Under AV, people are asked to rank candidates in order of preference… In this way it allows people who vote for the minor, fringe parties to have their votes counted several times, while those voting for mainstream parties can have their voted counted just once.

…according to No2AV. But since in fact the votes for “mainstream” parties are being counted again each time a candidate is eliminated (it’s just that these voters are lucky enough to have their first choice still in the race) this is true “one person, one vote”. FPTP is “one mainstream voter, one vote” and if you vote for a “fringe” party and your vote gets discarded, that’s your fault for voting for a third-place party. I don’t think it’s the primary intention of the supporters of FPTP to penalise you in this way; it’s just that they don’t care. From their perspective they want to punish the “fringe” candidates and they just don’t care about the consequent disenfranchisement of their supporters.

There’s one more day of campaigning. Listen to them on the radio, watch them on TV. Attend to their language – and see if they give away their belief that, once cast, votes belong to candidates and no longer to the electors…

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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