To AV or not to AV: that is the question

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On May 5 we get the chance – most of us for the first time – to participate in a referendum. And what is it about? Only the most exciting thing ever: voting reform. I know what you are thinking, this is like your birthday and Christmas rolled into one – but which way are you going to vote, yes or no? First of all let’s take a look at what exactly this new voting system is.

Under the Alternative Vote (AV) voters rank the candidates in order of preference; if any candidate gets over 50% of the vote then they win. But if no candidate gets 50% of the vote then things get a little complicated. The candidate with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated and their second choice votes are allocated to the remaining candidates and so on and so forth until someone manages to get a sufficient amount of votes.

This is opposed to the current First Past The Post system, where simply the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. Like the final of The X Factor, except it’s not run by Simon Cowell. This is one of the major faults with AV; compared to the current system it’s a bit complex, isn’t it?

But if AV were to come into effect it would eliminate the issue of tactical voting that is rife in the First Past The Post system. Currently people realise their beloved Green Party is not going to win a general election any time soon, so instead vote for the mainstream party they despise the least in attempt to keep someone else out of power. Probably not the scenario the fathers of democracy had in mind when they come up with the bright idea. Under AV people can vote for a smaller party and if that candidate doesn’t win they still have an opportunity to vote for who they prefer to see in power. So under AV voting for a smaller party is no longer the equivalent of flushing your ballot down the toilet.

AV is more likely to create coalitions as people are no longer forced to vote for the mainstream parties. Now depending on your opinion this can be a good thing or a bad thing. With more than one party in power a coalition can represent a larger proportion of the electorate. Yet this often leads to parties having to compromise on their principals in an effort to get along. Or in the case of the Liberal Democrats abandon them completely. Remember that crazy time when the Lib Dems said they wouldn’t raise tuition fees? Boy, did they fool us – good one Nick Clegg.

However the main problem many people find with AV is that by opening the door to smaller parties, the door is also opened to someone else. The crazies. And not just the amiable, friendly ones like the Monster Raving Looney Party, The Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality or The Church of Militant Elvis (yes they are all real). It also lets in the political party equivalent of that guy in the pub with the shaven head, controversial tattoos and unique take on immigration. However, as nasty as parties like the BNP and UKIP are, the fact is if people vote for them then they do deserve seats in parliament. Under First Past The Post people can choose to ignore this sadly substantial minority, as it is unlikely they can gather enough votes to get a seat. Yet just because they don’t have a seat in Parliament doesn’t mean we should just ignore them and the problems fuelling and creating them. AV forces mainstream parties and society in general to confront these people and address the source of these views.

So come May 5, the fate of the UK’s electoral process is in your hands. Can you feel the pressure and the responsibility? But what do you want? Keep a tried and tested method or shake things up a bit?

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