Sunday, 6 March 2011

How to AV (Scientific Edition)

I went to a Labour party debate on the alternative vote yesterday in Willington, North West Durham. Before I went in I was very much a floating voter on AV and emerged from the debate with my mind pretty much made up. I am relatively young and I have voted in a couple of general elections and some local ones and I have never really been uncertain about who to vote for; I vote Labour, end of. Even when Blair took us into war with Iraq I may not have been totally comfortable when marking my X but it still went in the box with the rose next to it. (I found out today that an X will still be counted in an AV ballot)

Anyway back to the point. Before we started I apologised for my naivety then asked what AV actually was and got a good explanation of how AV works I will try to summarise it (in a science experimental method sort of way)

1. Turn up to vote.
2. Rank candidates in order of preference using 1 for most preferred then 2, 3 and so on.
3. If you find step 2 too complex or just don't feel like expressing 2nd preferences and so on, then just put 1 or X and your 1st preference will be counted.
4. Fold paper and pop it in the box. (If there are any party leaders reading this then you may want to pause for photos at this point).
5. Go home and feel lucky that live you somewhere where democracy is so peaceful.

Then the returning officer and volunteers get to work;
1. Count all the 1's on the ballot papers.
2. If a candidate has more than 50% of the vote then that candidate wins. The returning officer and the polling volunteers can go home early for a nice cup of cocoa with poppy rebel John Snow on the TV.
3. If a candidate does not have 50% of the vote then the polling volunteers may need coffee instead of cocoa.
4. Count all the 2s and add them to the 1s.
5. If a candidate still does not have 50% of the vote then crack open the energy drinks keep counting the preferences until one lucky candidate has 50% of the vote.
(If I have made a mistake here then please do comment).

Like Nick Clegg I still can't really explain how this is different from single transferable vote (STV) but I think that it is something like this; in STV all but two candidates are deleted after the 1's are counted. (Correction; see Imogens comment)

Maybe you can predict, from reading the above method, if I left the debate thinking Yes to AV or No to AV. You will have to read my next blog entry to find out... AV or not AV


mark.e.scott said...

You go a bit off the rails at step 4 of the counting. We don't count all the 2s, just those on the ballots that belong to the lowest-scoring candidate. And so forth. Otherwise, not a bad description

Imogen said...

It's not STV where all but 2 of the candidates are deleted. It's the supplementary vote (SV) which is used to elect London's Mayor.

STV (single transferable vote)occurs in multi-member constitencies and is proportional representation. Very good as well. Used in Republic of Ireland, 3 levels of govt in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Also proposed for Welsh Assembly.

Liam Carr said...

Thanks for the comments, things are becoming clearer. If AV is made more understandable then people are more likley to vote. The no campaign want us all to believe that AV is far too complex for the public to understand: Do not patronise us, the electorate are not stupid.

Scott and Dani said...

Fairly good description, but like mark.e.scott said at stage 4 you knock out the candidate with the least 1st preferences, and then only count the 2nd preferences of people who's first preference has been knocked out. Then, if no-one has 50% still you knock out the lowest candidate again and count the 2nd preferences of people who's 1st preference has been knocked out, 3rd preference of people who's 1st and 2nd preference is knocked out. Wait - that made it sound complicated, let me re-phrase.

In the first round count everyone first preference. After each round knock out the candidate with the least votes. In the second, third, fourth round etc each ballot paper is counted once, the vote going to the highest ranked candidate still in the running. When someone gets 50% in a round of voting then stop counting.