Feel free to just watch the videos!
Imagine the wrong person winning a position of extreme power just because the votes were counted badly….
On May the 5th you have a chance to stop it happening in the UK.
In some UK elections and the US presidency a widely-discredited voting system called first-past-the-post (FPTP) is used which can’t cope properly with more than two candidates.
(Scroll down for the video on the Alternative Vote)
In 2000 the US Presidential candidates were George W. Bush, an oil baron, and two environmentalists with a lot in common – Democrat Al Gore and Green campaigner Ralph Nader. Nader polled only 3% but pulled enough of Gore’s vote away so that Bush got more votes than Gore in several marginal States, narrowly giving Bush the Presidency.
Whoever gets most votes wins sounds great in theory, but with three or more candidate it can mean an unpopular candidate winning. Bush won because of Nader’s intervention. Who stands determines the result rather than actual preferences of the voters. This common failing of FPTP is called the spoiler effect.
We have rejected FPTP for governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London and the elections of party leaders.
Sadly, we still use FPTP to elect MPs. Could the spoiler effect be changing results in constituencies in the UK? Yes, probably several, if not several hundred! Nader trigged the spoiler with 3% vote. Here our “minor parties” get 35%.
There’s a solution to FPTP. In the US it’s increasingly popular as more and more cities use it in their elections. Americans call it Instant Run-off Voting. We call it the Alternative Vote (AV).
AV is as easy as 1,2,3. You put a 1 by the candidate you genuinely like best; 2 by your second preference, and so on. You can even just mark your ballot paper with an X, which will count as a 1st preference only. Easy. You get an equal say like everyone else.
When the votes are counted, weaker candidates (like Nader) are gradually excluded. Then we work out how people would have voted if that candidate hadn’t stood. That would have been enough for Al Gore to gain a majority in enough States to the win the White House (as only a very few of Nader’s supporters had Bush as their 2nd choice). But if no-one has got a majority we’d keep excluding weak candidates until we find someone with more than 50% support.
AV helps community campaigners who reach out to voters beat candidates who think the way to win elections is to throw advertising money at them.
AV is widely supported in the US because all parties know they can be hit by the spoiler effect. In the UK some parties think the spoiler effect works in their favour and try hard to block reform with terrible scare stories. They haven’t realized that when MPs are out of touch with voters their decisions are always going to be bad. On May 5th there’s a referendum on whether MPs should be elected by the Alternative Vote. I urge you to vote Yes.
The author, Imogen Caterer is a Yes to the Alternative Vote activist. This is part of her personal Yes to Alternative Vote campaign. P&P: I Caterer, 180 Storud Road, Gloucester GL1 5JX