Possibly the greatest advantage of the Alternative Vote, or any preferential voting system, is that is does away with split votes. Split votes are one of the disadvantages of the First Past the Post system and lead to some of the worst outcomes of elections contested using First Past the Post. This is why I urge you to vote Yes in the Referendum in May.
Under First Past the Post the votes for two similar candidates can be split. A Split vote is where two similar candidates stand. Say Labour and the Co-op Party or the Conservative Party and UKIP. Voters, armed only with the blunt instrument of an X are not able to say “Either of these, but not HIM!” Voters, unsure which will win, vote in equal numbers for both candidates. Some vote for one candidate, some for an other and the votes are split between them and the NOT HIM candidate wins. The total votes cast for similar candidates far outweigh the votes cast for their main rival, but the rival sneaks through the split votes and takes the seat with the largest minority of the vote.
This is why our Big 3 parties are so broad. So broad, in fact, you don’t really know which type of Labour, Tory or Lib Dem candidate you are getting. Not that you could do much about it. More and more power is concentrated in the hands of Party bosses.
For example X (Judean People’s Front) and Y (Popular Front of Judea) both stand for election against A (Roman Palestine Party). X and Y both want the Romans to go home but can’t agree if they should walk home or take the bus. A polls 40% of the vote. X polls 39% of the vote. Y polls 21%. Votes for Roman’s to go home total 60%. Number of votes in Parliament for sending home the Roman. Nil
Cries of “If only I’d know X was going to finish second. I’d have voted for her instead of Y.”
The only way to combat this is for the Judean People’s Front and the Popular Front of Judea to join forces and become the People’s Popular Front of Judea (or the Lib Dems).
Parties have been aware of this issue for generations. Witness the Alliance or the electoral pacts of the Thirties.
Voters have been aware of this problem for some time too and have evolved a cunning strategy for dealing with it. It is called tactical voting. Voters try and work out which of the parties they think would be acceptable is the party most likely to win and then vote for them to make sure they do win. So common is this practise that there are websites dedicated to helping you vote to keep the other team out.
Hang on a minute. Voters are saying that they would prefer one of two similar parties to win over a third, different, party. That, if they were given a choice between two candidates other than their most favourite, they would have a preference as to which one won a seat. That sounds a little like preferential voting. Indeed it does, dear reader.
The problem of split votes leading to wasted votes has become more and more an issue in the UK. Since 1945 the share of votes of two main parties has dwindled from 88.14% in 1945 to 65.04% of the vote in 2010. More and more people don’t identify with one of the big two parties. Fewer and fewer MP’s have an absolute majority in their seat
The Alternative Vote does away with the risk of vote splitting and the need to vote tactically by allowing you express your preferences out in the open by ranking the candidates in the order you would prefer them to represent you. If your first choice is knocked your vote transfers to your next preferred candidate and helps to decide if they or the other side will be sent to Westminster. Nobody gets to vote more than once. Everyone’s vote gets to help decide the eventual outcome. Everyone’s voice is heard but no one voice is heard too much. No one is disenfranchised.
For the first time many voters will be able to vote sincerely for the candidate they really want to win. They can vote for the best candidate rather than just voting to avoid the worst.
This means that smaller parties are no longer excluded from representation by the huge incumbency advantages of the Big 3 parties. It means more voter choice and more voter power. It means you get a fairer voting system.