The Alternative Vote voting system has been mooted as a replacement for First-Past-The-Post as used in national UK elections (except Northern Ireland). In May 2011, a referendum was held on the Alternative Vote system and it was overwhelmingly rejected by those who voted. But what would the Alternative Vote system have introduced that made it fleetingly a seeming replacement for FPTP, a system that has always been used for national UK elections?
The Alternative Vote (AV) system allows a voter to rank the candidates on a ballot paper in an order of preference. The voter can rank as many as they like or a few as they like – i.e. if there are 6 candidates on a ballot paper a voter may only wish to rank three or five but has the option of all six. However, at least one candidate has to be ranked or that ballot paper will be seen as being null and void as nothing is on it in terms of preference.
In the first round of counting, the ballot papers are sorted into number one votes – each candidate effectively gets a pile of ballot papers that put him/her at number 1. If in this round any one candidate gets more than 50% of the votes cast, he/she is declared the winner for that election. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, counting goes into round two.
In ‘Round Two’ the candidate with the fewest number 1 votes is withdrawn from the count. The ballot papers for this candidate are then looked at again with specific reference to number 2 votes. These number 2 preference votes then go to the named number 2 candidate on that ballot paper. If any ballot paper does not show a number 2 preference it is not included.
If now a candidate gets over 50% of the votes cast, he/she is declared the winner. If there is still no winner, the process is repeated as Round Three. Again, the candidate with the fewest number 1votes is withdrawn from the contest and their ballot papers re-examined. Any number 2 preferences on these ballot papers are redistributed as long as these candidates are still in the contest. If a preferred number 2 candidate is no longer in the race, that ballot paper is not counted.
If there is still no candidate with 50%+ of the votes, the process goes into Round Four and is repeated until a candidate does get a majority of the votes.
Advantages of AV: supporters of AV believe that such a system will reduce the certainly that the two main parties will always succeed and give third parties a better chance of winning a constituency election. For this reason, supporters of AV believe that it is more democratic as it negates the historic fact that two parties – especially in England – will almost certainly always win at constituency level and therefore form the next government. Supporters of AV believe that greater choice and a greater chance of success for third parties can only enhance British politics.
Disadvantages of AV: those who do not support AV point out that it is rarely used worldwide and they argue that this in itself should show the public how much there is little faith in the system. They also point out that potentially a result could take days to reach whereas in the UK, a government can be formed within 24 hours of an election. If AV was used in the UK for national elections, those who do not support AV claim that the country could end up rudderless for some time while all the results across all constituencies are counted.