Tuesday, 13 July 2010

But Whose Alternative Votes will be Counted?

I'm all for changing our voting system. I was born in Reigate in Surrey and know that if I'd stayed there my Labour vote would never have counted. So I'm all for change.

At last we are promised a vote on change . . . but change to what? The choice to be offered, it would seem, is the Alternative Vote - which is not a proportional system at all. But, more importantly, it’s an unfair system that will disenfranchise as many as it franchises and has other, equally as bad, consequences.

There will be many like me (from all political colours) who wouldn't be able to bring ourselves to vote for a different party; so where's our 'second vote'? But at least we choose not to use it - so although disenfranchised you could say we have only ourselves to blame.

But what really worries me is the way other ranked votes are to be reallocated. ‘Ranked’ because it goes beyond second choices.

It's stated in public forums that voters will rank candidates. If the lead candidate fails to get more than 50 pc of the vote, then alternative choices are allocated until the leading candidate achieves more than 50 pc. So far so good; but we are not usually told that the votes reallocated start with those given to the candidate who gets least votes, then next to bottom and so on. And here's the rub.

In the following paragraphs I’ll round figures, and I make assumptions about 1st choices. There isn’t the space here to investigate what happens when people put small parties as second choices.

In my own constituency of Hall Green, for instance, there was a tight three-way contest between Labour, Respect and LibDems. Roger Godsiff (Lab) won over Respect by just under 3k votes, with just under 50k votes cast. So the winner must achieve 50 pc or more of . . . well, votes of some sort or another – about 25k.

Here goes. First to be reallocated would be an Independent (190), then UKIP (950), then Conservative (7320). We now move into speculation, but it's reasonable to believe that the UKIP second choices would, in the main, go to Conservatives . . . what happens then?

Here we have about 8.5k votes to be reallocated among the Labour, Respect and LibDems. On the 2010 figures, Godsiff would need to achieve 9k more votes and Yacoub about 13k more votes to win, so there aren’t yet enough votes to win. On this next redistribution people who voted LibDems would have 2nd choices counted, previous Conservatives 3rd choices counted and the others, their 4th choices.

Did you follow that? Here’s another example. This one from the next door constituency of Edgbaston.

Gisela Stuart held on to the Labour seat (against all expectations) with a majority of just over 1k. (Lab 16.9k, Con 15.6k, LibDem 6.4k; about 42k votes were cast in all) In Edgbaston, the winner would need to win about 21k votes.) To win, Stuart (Lab) would need an additional 4k and Alden (Con) about 5k more. So far so good.

But look at how second choices would be reallocated here. Tiny parties took about 260 votes, then Green c470. UKIP 732 – so about 1.5k in all. These reallocated votes aren’t enough to win the election so the next is BNP with 1196 votes to be redistributed. Around 2.5k second choices to be redistributed. Still not enough, so another round of choices is needed. In this one, LibDems get their second choices with the BNP’s more than 1k voters’ third choices having, possibly a significant influence.

Second and third choices could have significant influence and people’s first choices down graded. And is a third choice really a valid choice? The system moves into Alice territory . . . and goodness knows how long counts and recounts might take.

So . . . Alternative Votes are no better, really, than First Past The Post. In a referendum that offers us the choice between AV or FPTP, what are we to do? AV is unfair. A 'no' to AV in a referendum is likely to close the door for electoral reform for a long time.

The only way forward on this is for politicians to vote against the referendum - if the choice is AV or status quo. The ‘no’ vote must incorporate a firm commitment to change to a fairer system. The door is then left open for a referendum that'll offer us a proper choice – and perhaps one that would allow my Labour vote in Reigate to count for something.

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