Vote Early, Vote Often
Vote Early, Vote Often is the ironic battle cry of political campaigners. Here in the UK we would be appalled if someone tried to vote more than once. It’s a crime. One man, one vote has been the cry of Electoral Reformers for centuries. One charge leveled against the Alternative Vote is that it allows some people to do just that. But does it?
When voting using the Alternative Vote you rank candidates in order of your preference, marking 1 next to your favorite candidate, 2 next to your next favorite candidate and so on until you either run out of candidates or don’t have a preference between them. When the votes are counted the candidate with the smallest number of first preference is knocked out and their votes are re-distributed based on expressed second preferences. If your first preference candidate is knocked out at any point, your second preference is counted. If your preferred candidate doesn’t get knocked out then your first preference carries forward.
The Alternative Vote is called Instant Run-Off Voting in some jurisdictions. It attempts to mimic a series of elections or run offs. In each run off the candidate with the lowest support is eliminated. You could do this by having a number of actual elections and each time a candidate is eliminated everyone votes again. This would be time consuming and cumbersome and expensive, particularly in seats like Edinburgh North and Leith, with up to a dozen candidates. Alternative Vote or Instant Run-Off Voting gets round this by asking voters to rank their choices. Their vote is a contingent vote. It depends on who stays in the race and who gets knocked out.
When you vote using the Alternative Vote method the preference system is a way of asking you a question. The question is “If your favorite candidate is eliminated and we had the election again, who would you vote for?” For most people the answer will be “My candidate wasn’t eliminated so I would continue to vote for them.” Voters, whose first choice candidate is knocked out, don’t get a second vote. They get to pick who they transfer their vote to as if we had re-run the election but without their 1st preference candidate.
Imagine an election with five candidates, Tom, Dick, Harry, Kate and Bob. There are 101 electors. The winning number of votes is 51.
My Vote is
You have voted
In round one the votes cast are
Tom 30 (including me)
Bob 9 (including you)
In round two we redistribute Bob’s votes. Bob’s voters gave their second preference 3 to Kate (including you) and 2 to Harry, Dick and Tom. Your vote, according to your instructions is re-distributed to Kate.
In round two the votes cast are
Tom 32 30 + 2 (including me)
Dick 32 30 + 2
Harry 22 20 + 2
Kate 15 12 + 3 (including you)
Kate is eliminated and her votes are redistributed amongst Tom, Dick and Harry. Harry, Dick and Tom pick up 5 votes each. According to your instructions your vote is transferred to Harry.
In round three the votes cast are
Tom 37 30 + 2 + 5 (including me)
Dick 37 30 + 2 + 5
Harry 27 20 + 2 + 5
Harry is eliminated. His votes are redistributed nearly evenly. Dick picks up 13 votes (including yours) and Tom pick up 14 votes.
The final standings are
Tom 51 30 + 2 + 5 +14 (including me)
Dick 50 30 + 2 +5 + 13 (including you).
Tom is elected.
In each round your vote transferred from one candidate to the next according to your instructions. In each round so did mine. My candidate was never knocked out so my vote or my instruction to keep voting for Tom so long as Tom was in the race was never transferred.
In each round you voted for your preferred candidate from the slate available. In each round so did I. Depending on how you look at it we either had 1 vote each, or we both had 4 votes, 1 in each round. Your vote was transferred 4 times but you didn’t vote 4 times more than me.
The Alternative Vote does not give people who voted for smaller parties more votes than anyone else.
AV is similar to multiple rounds of voting. In some jurisdictions, notably the USA, AV is known as Instant Run Off elections. It tries to simulate a series of elections, or run offs with candidates being eliminated. In each “round” every voter gets one vote.
If your most preferred candidate is eliminated in the first round in effect you vote again, choosing between the candidates who remain in the second round and so on. If your most preferred candidate is not eliminated you also vote again, but for the same candidate.