On 5 May 2011 Britons will decide whether they want a new electoral system or not.
Today, whoever gets a majority of votes gets past the post and into Parliament. This may result in someone being elected with as less as say 30% of the vote in a constituency. Fairly undemocratic – at least this is, what Libdem’s and all the others who support the Alternative Vote (AV) think. AV comes with the promise to be more democratic than first-past-the-post. In order to do so, voters are supposed to have not just one but many preferences. So, you do not vote for one candidate, but rank candidates according to your preferences.
Think of it as if going to a pub looking for a pint of lager, but being prepared to content yourself with milk, if lager is out. So you rank your preferences like that: lager, milk, water, coffee and so do other pub goers. Based on customer demand the landlord will decide what to offer, the beverage that gains 50% or more of pub-goers preferences will be served. But to determine the “winner”, the landlord will use a rather elaborate counting-program, that looks like that:
Count first preferences. If any beverage has 50% or more of the vote, end process. If not, go on.
Add second preferences to first preferences. If any beverage has 50% or more of the vote, end process. If not, go on.
Add third preferences to first and second preferences … and so on.
In the end, the landlord offered milk to his customers, but your first preferences was a lager. Will you feel more democratically treated while sipping at your milk? I wonder.
Anyway, in either case, a candidate that received 30% of first preferences and got past the post after second preferences were added will still command only 30% of first preferences which means, he is not the first choice of 70% of his constituents. So what’s different? Nothing much. Different is just that he can claim to be the candidate who is first, second, and sometimes third choice to more constituents than rivals are. Nevertheless, 70% of constituents will end-up with their second or third choice in Parliament.
Is this more democratic than first-past-the-post?
Think about it, while sipping your milk in your local pub.