Preference Voting

Many countries around the world still use the “First Past The Post” (FPTP) style of voting with single-candidate constituencies. We believe that this leads to elections that don’t reflect the will of the people.

What’s wrong with FPTP?

Three big problems:

  • Minority election – politicians can get elected without a majority of the votes cast – which leads to tactical voting and extremism;
  • Lack of proportionality – unbalanced representation in parliament compared to how people vote;
  • Lack of recall – MPs can’t be sacked by their voters mid-term.

Why is preference voting the right choice now?

  • Candidates need the broad support of a true majority to get elected;
  • The end of most tactical voting;
  • Reduced chance of extremists getting elected (the BNP wanted a “No” result in the UK referendum of 5th May 2011);
  • Preference voting is another simple system that doesn’t get into quotas and multiple ballots.

How does FPTP compare to preference voting?

Minority election Often occurs Eliminated
Tactical voting Encouraged Eliminated
Voting simplicity One ballot paper with all candidates –
write a single “X”
One ballot paper with all candidates –
write preferences, “1″, “2″, “3″…
Counting simplicity One round of counting Multiple rounds of counting
Voting machines Not needed Not needed
UK cost £91 million* £117 million*
Proportionality Not proportional Not proportional
Coalitions /
hung parliaments
Possible, usually unlikely Possible, usually unlikely
Negative campaigning Not affected Discouraged
Extremism Can get elected due to minority election Difficult to elect
would have to get more than 50% of the vote
Who benefits? Complacent and lazy politicians Voters

* Figures taken from the NO2AV campaign for the UK referendum of 5th May 2011.

That sounds good; what’s AV, then?

The Alternative Vote is a small change to our voting system (First Past The Post), which allows you to say which order you prefer the candidates in, rather than just who is your favourite: it’s a form of preferential voting.

AV doesn’t even up the number of MPs in parliament so that a party with 20% of the vote would get 20% of the seats – neither FPTP or AV is proportional – but does mean that candidates have to have the broad support of more than 50% of voters to get elected. Because of that, tactical voting and split voting, where a minority candidate can be elected by splitting the supporters of the other candidates, are virtually eliminated.

Counting happens in several rounds, with the least supported candidate being eliminated in each round, pretty much like the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. The vote of anyone who supported the eliminated candidate is transferred to their next preference alternative (hence the name), and votes are counted again. When someone gets more than 50%, they are elected.

What do the campaigns say?

Both camps have run quite bizarre campaigns, with “untruths” from each side. Here are a few claims to pick up on…

NO to AV

YES to Fairer Votes

Is AV the best voting system for the UK?

That’s not the question that’s being asked on 5th May. If you think that AV is better than FPTP, you should vote YES; voting NO simply allows the government to say “look, there’s no interest in voting reform” and remove reform from the agenda for a generation to come.

Having said that, you might want to see the other options. There are loads of different voting systems, and some (especially if they use preferential voting like AV and also increase proportionality) might be better for Britain.

10 Responses to Preference Voting

  1. Hmmm…

    Not sure if I agree with all of this…

    Maybe people should have a look at an alternative view point:



    • Iain says:

      Sure, people should read alternative viewpoints.

      The questions on this page and the rest of Vote 123 explain why the reasons given on the NO campaign’s site are false.

      • Do you not believe that if we change the voting system, is it likely that they will give us an option to change it again – for a better system like proportional representation?

        • Iain says:

          That may or may not happen; we can’t predict whether a proportional system is likely to be offered or not. What’s being asked now whether AV should replace FPTP, and to that, my answer is YES.

          • I think it is quite evident that if it has taken this long for a referendum to be held, and IF we change the voting system – they WILL NOT be asking our opinion to change it again (Not for the “next generation” anyway)?

          • AV can lead to even more disproportional results than FPTP – three out of the last four election results would have been more disproportional under AV – and it undermines the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ by giving some people more say than others.

            Also, a seat is only ‘safe’ for as long as the voters choose to make it so. In a seat where the MP wins with 51% of votes under AV, for example, 49% of votes would still be ‘wasted’ by the Yes campaign’s definition.

            • Iain says:

              Proportionality is likely to be similar to FPTP with AV, and there’s a question on this site specifically about why AV doesn’t undermine “one person, one vote”.

              And the whole point is to reflect more truly the wishes of the voters.

            • rob g says:

              Its pointless to apply AV to previous election years as tactical voting would have been less likely.
              To say what ‘may’ happen under AV is to ignore the disgrace of what happens currently under FPTP.
              FPTP is a system that benefits the few and relies on voter apathy and sense of pointlessness to prevent alternatives.

  2. Tom says:

    Technically tactical voting can occur under AV, it is a different sort though, and much less likely. Still – include it for integrity. A breakdown of the costs in the table would be good too, but otherwise very neat.