Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Make my vote count

With this year’s general election result being generally a foregone conclusion (a Labour win, with the Conservatives in seconds and LibDems third), there’s been more talk of a reform to the voting system.

As you know, back in March I stood in my local student union elections for the position of treasurer. I didn’t get elected but I do think the voting system was much more fair than for the looming general election.
We use the ATV – Alternative Transferable Voting – system for specific positions and STV – Single Transferable Voting – for electing delegates to the annual NUS conference. To give you an idea, here’s what the respective ballot papers will look like for my constituency, Bradford West. The first is the usual ‘First Past the Post’ system, the second is ATV/STV:
First Past the Post Ballot Paper
ATV Ballot Paper
As you can see in the second example, you can vote in order of preference. I’d most like the Liberal Democrat candidate to get in, but if he doesn’t, I’ll settle for the Green Party candidate. If they both fail, then I’d like a Labour candidate.
‘Re-open nominations’ is a ‘none of the above’ vote. If you feel that none of the candidates deserve to be elected, you can make this your first choice. Or, you can make it another number – in this example, I put it fourth, so that if my top 3 candidates don’t get in I don’t want any of the others to. If RON wins, then another election is called. The same candidates can, I think, stand again but it also gives other candidates a chance.
The way the count works is that first, all the first choice votes are counted. If one candidate has 50%+1 or more of the valid votes cast, then they are elected (so if there are 800 votes, any candidate with 401 or more votes is elected). If not, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated (this can include RON) and the counting goes to a second round.
In this round, those ballots for the eliminated candidate are analysed again, and the second choice votes are added to the first choice totals. So, say 100 people voted RON and it came last, and of those 50 voted Labour and 20 voted LibDem as their second choices, the number of Labour votes would go up by 50 and the number of LibDem votes would go up by 20. Any votes where there was no second choice would then be discarded and the new total will be the total number of valid votes cast minus the non-transferable discarded votes. At this point, if a candidate has got more than 50%+1, he or she is elected. If not, the counting goes to a third round where the third choice candidates are looked at and so on, until there are just two candidates left, at which point whoever has the highest number of votes is elected.
To me this seems more fair and allows people to have second preferences, as well as register a ‘protest’ vote if they feel that none of the candidates are fit for the job. The one problem I could see is that if given the option of voting for no-one, many people who generally distrust politicians will vote RON time and time again, and we could have constituencies where there are elections every two months that no-one wins.
STV works in a similar way to ATV but I’m not sure of the specifics since I wasn’t involved in the vote count this year (for obvious reasons). The LibDems, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru (and some Labour Party members) are all in favour of proportional representation and a fairer electoral system so if you feel that this is an important issue to you then you may like to consider voting for them on May 5th.
For more information see the Make My Vote Count web site and consider signing the petition. Thanks to NRT for the motivation behind this post.

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