Nothing is less likely to make people more excited and thrilled about their democracy then the ability to number candidates with a first and second preference – the alternative vote referendum in the UK May 5th – compared to a solitary “X” by the name of the candidate under the present parliamentary election rules for Westminster. I could explain further but I do not want to ruin your Easter weekend.
What I will say is that if you vote for whoever comes first or second your second preference, should you have made one, will have no influence. Should there be at least three candidates (most commonly more in our elections) the last place is out but their second preference will be added to the remaining candidates. This continues until someone gets 50% of the vote. I am sorry if I just ruined your Easter, but thought if I took you unawares with an explanation it would make easier to bear what is a tedious exercise when one could be hunting for Easter eggs.
So close election results means the majority first choice candidate could lose with the relocation of second preferences. That if you vote for a fringe party candidate you will be given a second chance to influence the result in a way those that others who voted may not. You could decide who you want first, and who you least object to next. It means, in effect, that you can elect a loser who under the current first past the post (simple majority simple plurality – if you want to show off) would not win. The first choice may not win.
Yes I hate this system, and those that believe like Vince Cable that AV will put an election lock on the progressive left winning should beware. The minimum winning coalition is always the more likely result with no overall party in power because: it is easier to govern, more stable, and the minority party will have more influence. It is why we have the Conservative Liberal coalition government in Britain now, despite ideological differences of the right wing Tories and left wing social democrats of the liberals.
It does not guarantee Labour a chance to be the natural party of government. To do that see New Labour – whatever you think of that time or Tony Blair they showed how to win elections by appealing to the centre. It might make it more likely – past studies reveal a 2/3 to Labour 1/3 to Conservative for Liberal second preferences before the coalition government ever existed.
I would rather a system that was more proportional – and in particular an elected senate instead of the House of Lords. That and more then just party members having a say in who stands as a candidate.
However, much as I hate the AV system it may mean that the left of British politics can be more effective in parliament. If I do vote yes though I will be holding my nose because it does not increase democracy but rather gives my political ideology more parliamentary representation. That is about electoral advantage, not improving democracy. Staying at home would give me a clearer conscience, even if it means passing on only the second referendum that England has ever had.
It really is a miserable compromise.