Alternative Vote - yay or nay?

The U.K. is holding a referendum in May on whether to change the Westminster election system from the current First Past the Post system to the Alternative Vote, also known as Instant Run-off Voting.

The referendum has basically been bashed out as the price of the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition government, as a bit of a compromise on behalf of both parties.

The current First Past the Post system, while simple, is a straight ‘winner takes all’ scenario which discards any loser votes, and consequently does not reflect the proportion of votes cast in Parliament - it’s punishing to smaller parities, and quite obvious why the Lib Dems want electoral reform. In the last general election, they received 23% of the vote, but only have 8.8% of the seats in Parliament.

AV is a bit more complicated, and to be honest I’m still kind of wrapping my head around it. Basically, you rank the candidates in order of preference. If no majority of a first choice is reached, the lowest ones are eliminated and the second choice of that ballot acts as a first choice for whomever was picked. Process is repeated until only one candidate remains.

I’m interested in what the American dopers think of this, since an American came up with the idea and it has a history of implementation in smaller elections in the U.S., where many hapless Brits like me are still scratching their heads and trying to figure out what actual changes it would bring.

Due to my ignorance on the subject, I’m undecided on the referendum, but consider myself tentatively against the change, primarily due to the the notion that it will lead to more hung parliaments and backroom deals - not the best recipe for representation and progress (see the Lib Dems tearing parts out of their manifesto to form a government with the Conservatives).

So, Dopers - which way will you vote in May? If you can’t vote, which way would you vote, and which way would you like to see the U.K. as a whole vote?

First, a clarification: Instant run-off voting is not the same thing as proportional representation. You can get skewed results like a party getting 23% of the vote but only 9% of the seats even in a two-party race (it all depends on how those voters are arranged), and this is what proportional representation systems are intended to correct. Instant run-off voting is only relevant in races between three or more alternatives, and are intended to remove the disincentive against voting for a minor party.

In a conventional election, if there are two major parties and a number of smaller parties, those who would favor one of the smaller parties know that their candidate won’t win, and so an honest vote for that candidate would be “throwing their vote away”: It’d be better to vote for whichever of the two major candidates you like better, since that way, you might actually make a difference. Voting for a third party can lead to something like what happened with Ralph Nader in 2000: Most of Nader’s voters probably would have preferred Gore over Bush, and if they had all voted for Gore, he would have won easily. Of course, many folks who liked Nader did think this way, and so voted for Gore anyway.

Now, in an IRV system, this is changed. It’s still the most likely outcome that the third party candidate will be in last place, but a vote for him is no longer throwing your vote away, since it’ll just transfer to your second choice in that case. So all of the people who genuinely do like Nader better than Gore can say so in their vote. And if they all say so, then maybe, just maybe, Nader will win after all.

UK doper here. My primary problem with the proposed AV system, is that the coallition haven’t yet published any of the fine points. Especially how many alternate votes you can/must place.

If the minimum allowed is one vote, for your preferred candidate only, then I dont see too much trouble with it. The party faithful will continue to vote for their respective candidate, while those who are split between who to vote for can place more. If however you have to place alternate votes, but don’t want to, I can see a lot of people refusing to vote or spoiling their paper.

Also if you feel your favourite candidate has no chance of winning, by having AV your vote can still count. This may lead to some direct gains of the smaller parties/indepenant candidates.

It does seem to me that it could make protest voting more powerful. If you have a beef against one particular party/candidate, then under the current system you have to think which of the remaining options has the strongest chance to prevent them winning. With AV you can hedge your bets somewhat.

Finally let’s not underestimate the stupidity of the British public. It’s hard enough for some of them to put an X in a box. Asking them to rank their choices from one to ten? Don’t make me laugh.

Really though, until the details are announced, this is typical British politics. A lot of talk and half-formed ideas with no plan behind it. Designed to cater to the bayings of the party faithful, rather than actually solve anything.

Chronos, although the Lib-Dems really want Proportional Representation the Conservatives are dead against. Instead AV is an instant run off system. It’s something neither side of the coalition really wants. The Tories want the status quo, while the Lib-Dems want PR. This is the result.

As I am led to believe, the former is the case. You may use your vote as you would under a FPTP system simply by placing a “1” next to your preferred candidate and then leaving all the other ones blank. So far as i’m aware, you don’t have to sort the entire list into preferent order; you can assign preference to as many or as few (including just one) as you like.

So for example, if in your local election your candidates represent Labour, Lib Dem, and BNP, you could if you were a diehard Labour supporter vote just for them. Or you could put Labour 1 and the Lib Dems 2, if you felt them lesser but palatable. You wouldn’t be forced to vote at all for the BNP, thank goodness.

I like Alternative voting. Simple proportional will give too much say to protest parties and extremnists and the like.

I don’t like AV at all. It prioritizes centrist parties. FPTP has its faults, but AV gives you government by the least unpopular rather than the most popular. It encourages parties to be as inoffensive as possible. Which is why the LibDems like it, because they have grown adept at hiding their obnoxiousness from the public view.

While I have little-to-no support for most protest parties and extremists and the like, i’m not certain that this is necessarily a problem, or at least, a priority one. Political parties should have as much say as the public decides they should via voting, and if that means that unpleasant groups get more power, well, that’s the downside of democracy.

Wouldn’t proportional voting give those parties a voice equal to the proportion of people that would vote for them? You (or I) may not like those parties but if people vote they deserve to have representation.

In theory I like AV, but I’m not sure what the actual impact will be. It will, almost certainly, lead to more hung parliaments. This might be a good thing if it forces compromise but the actions of the coalition so far so to indicate that we’ll just end up with a far less clear path. You vote for party X because of policy Y, but they join a coalition and that policy is the one discarded in the agreement.

Of course there’s no ideal solution (but feel free to try and convince me) and at least it opens government up to the idea of considering reform. Of course if the UK votes no (possible) then future governments can interpret it as a ‘no’ to any reform.