The Alternative Vote and the Challenge to Democracy

With only one day  to go before the UK Referendum on the AV electoral system, it is important to mention several challenges to democracy and representation that this system creates.

The biggest challenge to democracy related to the AV is that is gives power to the smaller, marginal parties, rather than the big parties. At the end of the day, if AV is introduced, smaller parites will be overrepresented at the expense of the bigger and more popluar parties. How does the AV lead to this paradoxical result? Smaller parties will gain momentuum not because they are more popular than big parties, but because people will put them as their second, third and so on preference. This automatically means that their votes will be counted and might actually have impact on the final results.

With the AV, the second and third votes of the fringe parties count for more than the second and third votes for the bigger parties. If no one reaches the 50 per cent threshold, then the little parties (second and third preference) will be eliminated first, their votes will be redistributed and will practically decide the outcome of the elections. This gives them a lot of power and might lead to unstable coalitions, hung parliaments and political fragmentation. These are processes more typical for countries from Eastern and Central Europe, where Proportional Representation System was deliberately introduced after the fall of communism to ensure the equal democratic representation of the numerous ethnic and religious groups.

In other words, the greatest challenge that the AV poses to democracy is related to respsentation. Voting and elections are the measure for democracy in advanced societies. If the AV is introduced however, it will obfuscate the preferences of the majority of the people, thus leading to unrealistic results.

It is debatable whether the AV can be classified as a proportional representation system. What remains unclear however is why the proponents of the AV want to introduce a proportional element in a country, which has one of the strongest traditions of a two party system? In countries with stable bipolar party system, majoritarian/plurality systems such as First Past the Post (FPTP) are most suitable. The reason for this is that they corroborate the two party model and in most of the cases lead to one ultimate winner who takes the majority of votes. This principle, which is also known as ‘one person, one vote’ is fundamental for modern democracies and is not met by the AV and by the other proportional representation systems.

Even if we disregard the obscurity and the fair unpopularity of the AV, we cannot overlook its structural weakness to produce fast and acurate results. Because of its design, the votes of the AV will need to be counted several times, which will cost the UK money and effort.

 It is interesting to note how the AV will affect political representation among BAME voters. Some NGOs claim that the AV gives more political freedom to marginalized groups in society. In other words, will black people in the UK be more fairly represented if the AV is introduced as the new electoral system? The answer is no, because there is no all bame party in the UK yet to represent collectively the voice of  the bame. For now, bame voters will be better represented if they join mainstream parties.

Finally, on the eve of the Referendum, we need to ask ourselves the question: why do we need to spend money on something which is not more representative, is not fairer and is not more democratic?

Finally here are some of the arguments in favour of maintaining the current first-past-the-post (FPTP)

1. AV is unfair

Under the AV system, some people would get their vote counted more times than others. For generations, elections in the UK have been based on the fundamental principle of ‘one person, one vote’. AV would undermine all that by allowing the supporters of fringe parties to have their second, third or fourth choices counted – while supporters of the mainstream candidates would only get their vote counted once.

2. AV is not widely used

AV is only used by three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea – and even they don’t like it. In Australia, av hasn’t made their MPs work any harder, got rid of ‘safe’ seats, or stopped negative campaigning. By contrast, our first-past-the-post voting system has been copied around the globe. It is used by 2.4 billion people, making it the most widely used system in the world.

3. AV is expensive

AV would end up costing our country an estimated £250m. This referendum alone is costing us £91m and AV would be a more costly way of running elections. Australia’s elections under AV cost three times more than ours do. When preferential voting systems were introduced in Scotland and London, expensive vote counting machines were bought in at a cost of millions. That’s without even counting the need for more polling stations and election staff because av ballots take longer to complete.

4. AV hands more power to politicians

AV is a politicians’ fix and will do nothing to fix our broken politics. By boosting the number of Lib Dem MPs, AV makes hung parliaments more likely – leading to more broken promises, more back-room deals, and more power in the hands of politicians rather than the voters. If AV was the answer to the expenses scandal, why didn’t we hear about it at the time and why are Members of the European Parliament abusing their expenses even though they’re elected under a different system?

5. AV supporters are sceptical

Even the Yes campaign think av isn’t good enough for our country. Those people telling you it is the best thing since sliced bread have spent years pointing out its flaws. Nick Clegg dismissed it as “a miserable little compromise” while Chris Huhne said “there would continue to be safe seats where the MP will effectively have a job for life”. But now they’ve all changed their tune. AV remains unfair, obscure and expensive and would be bad for our country. That’s why people should vote No.

On May 5th 2011  VOTE NO TO AV

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