Feb 192011
 

I’ve decided that ‘electoral reform’ is an issue so utterly pointless in the modern British polity that it deserves me taking the piss.

For your pleasure and mine, I’m going to provide alternative answers to Yes2AV’s FAQs.

Q: How does AV work?
A: It destroys even the fig leaf political parties have to wear of possessing a consistent, unified ideology about how governing should take place, and instead replaces it with a system in which contradictory, populist vote-chasing sets of laughable ‘policies’ are constitutionally enshrined and pursued by all political parties at one and the same time.

Q: So what’s the point?
A: There is no point. You’ll still only get to vote every four years, and the Government will still do whatever the fuck it wants, manifestoes be damned.

Q: Isn’t that too confusing?
A: Only if you possess insufficient intelligence to observe that even under AV, your ‘fairer’ vote won’t necessarily deliver a candidate or Government of your choice.

Q: Isn’t it fair that the candidate with the most votes wins?
A: Nothing is fair when ‘fair’ is defined as ‘not losing, ever.’

Q: Doesn’t that mean that some people get two votes?
A: Yes. In fact, more than two; some people might get as many votes as n-1, where n is the number of candidates on the ballot paper. And even then, the candidate in second place still loses.

Q: Don’t you end up with the Least-Worst candidate?
A: You end up with a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. Whether you consider that ‘Least-Worst’ is up to you.

Q: Do I have to give a 2nd preference if I don’t have one?
A: Not yet. But it’s only a matter of time before all of this shit becomes compulsory in the name of ‘fairness.’

Q: Will my ballot change?
A: Yes. Right now the ballot is designed so that even the illiterate and innumerate can vote. Do you really think that a voting system that requires people to be able to count and write in actual numbers won’t result in a total re-design of the ballot to make it more accessible? Get real.

Q: Who uses AV?
A: Almost no other democratic country in the bloody world. The one that does—Australia—has had a hung Senate for 25 years. In its House of Representatives, the same two factions exchange control every couple of elections. But I guess this regularly alternating result, identical to what happens in the UK, is okay with the voters, since at least their votes were ‘fair.’ (UPDATE: Their votes were also compulsory.)

Q: Who benefits?
A: Whichever two of three main political parties are the most similar to each other.

Q: Who loses out?
A: Everybody else.

Q: Wouldn’t AV mean more hung Parliaments?
A: Probably. But surely that’s the idea? No winners = no losers = ‘fair.’

Q: Wouldn’t AV mean more tactical voting?
A: All voting is tactical. Get over it.

Q: What about the constituency link?
A: MPs who actually care about their constituents will do so whatever the electoral process. MPs who don’t, won’t. This is true even in marginal seats.

Q: Wouldn’t reform help minority parties like the BNP?
A: Of course not. Extremists don’t deserve ‘fair’ votes.

Q: Doesn’t the current system let us ‘kick the rascals out’?
A: Not really. But then, if Australia is any indication, neither will AV.

Q: Won’t election night take longer?
A: Yes. It will also be more susceptible to unintentionally spoilt ballots (“Hey, this one has two 1s! DOES NOT COMPUTE.’), mistakes (‘Are we on second preferences now, or third? I’ve been counting for 15 hours straight and I’m bleeding to death from paper cuts.’), and fraud (‘That 2 totally looks like a 1. Yay, another vote for Labour!’).

Q: Will AV boost turnout?
A: No. AV won’t make busy people less busy, apathetic people less apathetic, or disenfranchised foreigners, prisoners, and homeless people less disenfranchised.

Q: Will AV change things on the campaign trail?
A: Yes. Candidates will promise even more of the bland sameness than they do now. Good luck with your Hobson’s Choice.

Q: Why a referendum?
A: Because even though we elect representatives to make every other decision about our lives, our country, and our money, and this is considered right and proper in the case of (for instance) letting the people determine Britain’s role in the United States of Eurasia, whether we put Xs or numbers on a ballot paper every four years is way too important to be left up to those jokers. After all, this is the one instance in which the public choice problem is admitted to exist.

Q: Isn’t First-Past-the-Post a British tradition?
A: Yes. Which is why it MUST GO. You fucking racist.

Q: Do the public even care about voting reform?
A: No, which is why this referendum doesn’t require over 50% of the electorate to vote in it for it to count, and why it’s being held at the same time as notoriously low-turnout local elections. If the public really cared, as represented by their representatives, we’d get a special Referendum Holiday with voting booths on every street corner.

Q: Isn’t electoral reform just for Lib Dems?
A: No. It’s for Labour too.

Today’s episode has been brought to you by the colour There’sStillOnlyOneWinner and the letter GTFOverIt.

  15 Responses to “Yes2WhoCares”

  1. The one that does—Australia—has had a hung Senate for 25 years.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing 😉 Being serious for a moment, the voting process for the Senate is AV like in that you number candidates by preference but it is in fact STV, though with all states having 12 Senators and New South Wales having 15 times the population of Tasmania it’s not a very representative form of it if you ask me. It’s further complicated by the fact that nearly everyone votes “above the line” anyway, meaning that they don’t number all the candidates at all. Their vote still behaves the same way but they’ve allowed whoever got their above the line vote to assign the preferences for the (I refuse to let them decide for me so I have to end up researching 60 odd candidates, some of them very odd). Simple for the voter, possibly complex for the party, and more than once it’s resulted in a minority party or an independent winning a Senate seat. Here in Victoria Steve Fielding got in that way in 2004 for the Family First party, and though he didn’t win another term in the last election another minor party candidate did. In South Australia they have an independent Senator called Nick Xenophon who won a seat on an anti-gambling platform in 07. I wouldn’t have voted for any of them myself but I appreciate the occasional headaches they gave Kevin Rudd over things like emissions trading schemes, internet censorship and spending >$40 billion of taxpayers’ money on a national broadband network.

    • We have a “hung senate” – no one party has a majority in the House of Lords.

      • I don’t really think you can consider the House of Lords as anything remotely equivalent to the Senates of either Australia or the US.

  2. You end up with a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. Whether you consider that ‘Least-Worst’ is up to you.

    ?! – even if you assume that all LD second-preferences flow to Labour and vice versa, then you’d still get a Tory MP in over 40% of seats. In practice, they don’t – and certainly won’t at the next election, since angry lefties are going to dump the LDs in droves, whereas centre-right-ists will be much more comfortable with them.

    Do you really think that a voting system that requires people to be able to count and write in actual numbers won’t result in a total re-design of the ballot

    Remember, this isn’t equivalent to the Australian federal system, where numbering everyone is compulsory – it’s equivalent to the NSW state election system, where you can put a tick in one box and it registers as a first-preference vote only (so exactly as you would under FPTP).

    Whichever two of three main political parties are the most similar to each other.

    Remind me, which two of the three main political parties are currently in a Coalition with each other?

    Everybody else.

    Well, except the minority parties (including the BNP, but also the Libertarians, UKIP, Greens, Whatever The Socialist Nutters Are Called This Week), since frothing Colonel Blimp types will be able to vote UKIP first-preference without accidentally letting Milibean in; beardie-sandal types will be able to vote Green first-preference, and so on.

    That won’t gain them seats in the short term, but it will get people used to voting for them, boost their prominence, and ensure that there is a public record of their support, rather than opinion polls that nobody believes or cares about. Particularly since the New Lords is likely to be voted on some kind of PR system, this can only be a good thing for small parties.

    Yes. It will also be more susceptible to unintentionally spoilt ballots (“Hey, this one has two 1s! DOES NOT COMPUTE.’), mistakes (‘Are we on second preferences now, or third? I’ve been counting for 15 hours straight and I’m bleeding to death from paper cuts.’), and fraud (‘That 2 totally looks like a 1. Yay, another vote for Labour!’).

    Based on Australia, this won’t be the case. 80% of votes in Australia are counted on election night, and in a normal election, the result is known by the morning (in 2010, as in the UK, the result obviously took longer than normal because it involved horse-trading about hung parliaments).

    though with all states having 12 Senators and New South Wales having 15 times the population of Tasmania it’s not a very representative form of it

    Bella’s from the US; she’s used to this one 😉 – but yeah, the Senate isn’t a good example, since it’s PR not AV.

    • I take your point about the Labour/Lib Dems thing, but on the subject of ballot design—I can’t imagine it would be very ‘fair’ that people who can’t write in the numbers would therefore be essentially excluded from expressing other preferences. Perhaps the ballot will stay the same, but instead there would be special helpers in the polling place to assist such people. I don’t know.

      The whole minority parties thing is a funny one. I note that both the Yes and No campaigns are claiming their electoral system would lock out minority parties and that the other system would help them. Who is being accurate and who is fudging, in your opinion? I assume from the above that you believe the Yes2AV to be… er, mistaken.

      Yes2AV also agree that counting the ballots will take longer. Maybe you should send them a little note.

      PS. The whole point of the US Senate is that it’s not based on population. You know, that whole federal system thing, where the state is a recognised individual polity? I don’t know if it’s the same for Australia.

      • Bella why numbers why not X, XX etc. or even I II Even in the current system interpretation is occasionally required – so long as the intent is clear it doesn’t matter how it is stated.

        As for expense on counting – only if no one candidate reaches 50%. By complaining about that the No2AV crowd are admitting that under the current system candidates win with a minority vote which is somehow better. Take my own district of Wyre Forest. Labour didn’t want a Conservative; I’d bet the LibDems didn’t want a Conservative likewise those who voted Health Concern didn’t want a Conservative. From the results 63% didn’t want our current MP yet there he is.

        As least with AV there’s the knowledge that the person elected is at least tolerated by the majority.

        • I’m not convinced that getting a candidate who is ‘at least tolerated by the majority’ is really the point of the system. It risks holding the majoritarian aspect as a higher priority than anything else.

          As for the expense on counting—I feel this is a seriously lame argument from the No2AV crowd, which is why I haven’t bothered deploying it. The idea that cost is an object in questions of the franchise is ludicrous and something I believed we’d put behind us when we started allowing non-propertied types to vote. Apparently not.

          • It risks holding the majoritarian aspect as a higher priority than anything else.

            Now that I will concede is a definite black mark against AV, but I feel not a very large one since parties in power invariably claim a democratic mandate as if they had majority support anyway.

      • Re the Senate: yes, the deal is exactly the same in Australia as the US (i.e. a commonwealth of states with independent legal systems, with no link between Senate representation and population). Hence my smiley.

  3. “You end up with a Labour or Lib Dem candidate.” If that is true, which I’m unsure about, is that not a suggestion that there is a broad centre-left consensus amongst the majority of the people in this country, and AV would only prevent a reactionary minority, albeit a large one, from dominating the political landscape half the time.

    • It could be a suggestion that there is such a consensus; I wouldn’t dispute that without more evidence. But I take exception to your characterisation of everyone who is not centre-left as ‘reactionary.’

  4. “Their votes were also compulsory” – Incorrect, there is no requirement to actually vote in Australia, all the law requires is that you turn up to vote and register your attendence at the polling station.

    The act of voting is still optional.

  5. Q: Doesn’t that mean that some people get two votes?
    A: Yes. In fact, more than two; some people might get as many votes as n-1

    I’m not sure this is true. Isn’t AV simply a method of holding multiple elections with one ballot and an ever decreasing pool of candidates?

    The person who’s first preference is Labour, say, but it takes three rounds to get a majority has voted “Labour, Labour, Labour”. Rather than “Labour, Excluded, Excluded”.

    Equally, the person who expresses a minority candidate as their first and only preference, but it takes three rounds to get a majority (during which their candidate is dropped) has effectively voted “Minority, None of the Above, None of the Above”.

    To my mind, everyone is getting the same number of votes. It’s just that some people change their preference across them.

    Now: whether it’s worth all the fuss, I have yet to be convinced. The only case I can think of where it would make a difference (in terms of improved fairness) is where a constituency has a preference for one of the smaller parties but doesn’t know it (how can they, it requires a vote to find out). However, since none of the voters know it, they all assume that a vote for the smaller party is a wasted vote, and so vote for the larger party. This seems such a likely possibility, that I’m not surprised no small party every gets anywhere in elections. The breakthrough threshold is ridiculously high.

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