Referendum on the AV system

Tomorrow is voting day in the UK to vote for or against the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) system.

The public is being asked whether they want to replace the existing method of first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of electing Members of Parliament (MP) to Westminster with the alternative vote system.

Under the FPTP system , the candidate who gets the maximum number of votes wins and is elected as the MP of his constituency.

Voters will be asked the question, “At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead? Yes or No?”

The votes will be counted at 1600 BST on 6 May, a day after the poll.

What is Alternative Vote?

Under the AV system, voters can rank candidates in the order of preference. The number of preferences is unlimited.  However, only the first preference will be counted initially and the candidate with more than 50% majority is automatically elected.

If a candidate in unable to secure 50% of the votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Votes for that candidate will be redistributed according to voters’ second preferences. There will then be a second round of counting. Again if a candidate is unable to secure 50% of the votes, another candidate with the least number of votes will be eliminated and a third round of counting will begin. This process will continue until one candidate gets more than 50% of the votes.

AV is currently being only is three countries in the world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

For AV

With the current system of first-past-the-post, there are times when a candidate with the highest number of votes wins with less than 50% support of voters. Thus candidates will have to work harder in order to win with a larger margin.

Smaller and lesser known parties will benefit from AV as they could be a second choice rather than not being considered from the beginning.

Against AV

If 50% of votes are not achieved in the first round of counting, the counting will continue until a candidate achieves it. This process is only complicated but also time consuming.

The FPTP system is considered as a fair form of election. All parties release their manifestos and voters vote for the candidate, party and manifesto that appeals to them the most. The person with the maximum number of votes wins while unpopular candidates are voted out. Thus, the winner takes it all.

The change of the AV system is estimated to cost Britain about £250m as local councils will have to buy new electronic voting machines and launch voter education campaigns.

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