How will you vote tomorrow?

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion over at Orphans on AV.  I’ve seen many fellow bloggers’ takes on it and some are right.

In Australia, where they have preferential voting [same thing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially someone who hasn’t lived under this system], it is fair, in that the person is elected whom the least number of people wish to see defeated.  For example, if my choice here were UKIP [because there was a true conservative as a candidate] and he clearly isn’t going to get in, then my next might be independent Conservative and he won’t get in either.

So, my third preference would go on the Tory pile.  Now, by the end, it comes down to Tory and Labour.  The Tory gets in and he is the one, of the two last candidates, I wish to see defeated less.  The good thing is that one can protest vote for one party, knowing that another will get in, according to your preferences.

So, you’ve voted with your heart but your head has put the Tories third [in the example above] and you know you’ve actually helped them get in.  The problem with FPTP is that I can’t protest vote.  In a two horse race, if I vote for an independent Conservative, I’ve cost the Tories a vote and if enough do that, then Labour gets in, which is not the result anyone sane wants.  Plus, it’s been a wasted vote and might as well have been put in the dustbin.

There are two reasons only I’d vote tomorrow for FPTP.  One is to stick it up the pollies.  The other is that it would give the Tories a chance of government, whereas, under AV, Labour and the LibDems would gang up and the Tories would never be in power.  Apart from that, it’s not a very good system, as it produces minority governments.

As many have pointed out though, both are rubbish systems because, in neither is there direct democracy.

Difficult one.

11 comments for “How will you vote tomorrow?

  1. QM
    May 4, 2011 at 17:15

    I’m seriously considering writing neither of the above on my paper.

  2. May 4, 2011 at 17:27

    I’m voting “Yes”. Is it brilliant and perfect? Nope. Is it a tad better than FPTP, for the reasons you outline? Nope. Will it lead to a permanent left-of-centre coalition running the country? Nope, or at least I hope not.

  3. WitteringWitney
    May 4, 2011 at 18:07

    I am voting NO purely on the basis that if a change is to be made then we should be asked to choose from all different options available – simples.

    I cannot understand anyone voting yes whilst admitting that it is not brilliant nor perfect, that is not better than FPTP and that it is hoped it will not lead to a left-of-centre coalition on a permanent basis. (sorry MW)

  4. May 4, 2011 at 18:14

    8 comments (currently) on Direct Democracy, supporting AV but seeking much much more.

    1 comment on Samizdata, but (depending on your browser) you might have to search down for “April 17, 2011 10:29 AM” or my name. This one points out that the Australian national lower house elections are actually somewhat different from (and IMHO worse than) the UK proposal.

    Best regards

  5. Patrick Harris
    May 4, 2011 at 18:53


  6. May 4, 2011 at 21:16

    Well, I was going to say that if I were there I’d vote FPTP but you’ve made me change my mind!

  7. May 4, 2011 at 22:11

    Neither option is perfect, the same goes for proportional representation.

    The question is. Which is the most democratic process, in my opinion that is the most important point.

  8. May 4, 2011 at 22:35


    “As can be seen, AV allows voters to provide more information than does FPTP, on what they desire. The ‘Australian’ method allows less information to be expressed than does the AV ‘UK’ method.”

    How? Same method. Last eliminated, 2nd preferences are distributed. Repeat. Where does this RON come into it?

    I’m happy to stand corrected but at this point, preferential is preferential and there’s only one way to run it. I’m bemused by the complications people are bringing in and that’s because they haven’t been under the system and are therefore wildly speculating as to how it works.

    I’m not supporting either AV or FPTP but this is a reasonable explanation:

    There are two things I didn’t mention with AV. One gets the donkey vote and reverse donkey, as people just put 1-2-3-4 etc. So a candidate named Adams benefits in this over a candidate named Zog. Defaced or incorrectly filled in slips are declared informal.

    The system does requite more time to count but what’s time compared to fairness? Let me say again though that I like neither system. Is there a quorum for this referendum? For example, if 20% of the voting population turn out, is it valid?

    Should it be?

  9. May 5, 2011 at 07:03

    I’ll come back later on James’ request to me for further clarification. However, I am a little disappointed in that he seems to be including me in his “therefore wildly speculating as to how it works”. I’ll have you all know that I was returning officer for the elections to the Royal College of Science Union, back in 1973. That used AV (STV with single seat constituencies) for, IIRC, 3 union posts and over 1,000 voters. All the Imperial College Union and constituent college unions used AV/STV and everyone understood how it worked: including especially me and my counting team.

    More up to date, Armando Iannucci, creator of “The Thick of It” and other good things, writes today in support of AV in the Telegraph and, more extensively, in the Independent.

    Best regards

  10. May 5, 2011 at 10:01

    James, at the 8th comment above asks me supplementary questions. I’ll try and answer these as best I can.

    1. Nigel: “The ‘Australian’ method allows less information to be expressed than does the AV ‘UK’ method.” James: “How? Same method. Last eliminated, 2nd preferences are distributed. Repeat.

    I’ll use the same example as I did on Samizdata: 4 candidates and a close-run thing (so approximately equal a priori probabilities).

    With FPTP, there are 5 possible ways of voting: one for each of the candidates and a blank/spoilt ballot paper.

    With the AV method used for Australian national elections to their lower house of parliament (the ‘Australian’ method), each voter must rank every one of the 4 candidates; papers with less voted rankings are (usually) viewed as invalid (that is named there as ‘informal’ – and let’s not get into the law on this just now). So the ‘Australian’ method has 24 possible legal ways of voting: 4 first choices times 3 second choices times 2 third choices, and no choice for the last choice.

    The AV method proposed for the UK allows one (in this example) to rank zero, one, two, three or four candidates. There are 24 ways of ranking 4 candidates (as with the ‘Australian’ method), also 24 ways of ranking 3 candidates, 12 ways of ranking 2 candidates, 4 ways of ranking 1 candidate and 1 way of ranking zero candidates. This gives a total number of ways of voting of 24+24+12+4+1, which is 65 ways of voting.

    Note that, if the proposed AV system for the UK were the ‘Australian’ method, I would be actively against it.

    2. James: “Where does this RON come into it?”

    The addition of the Re-open nominations (RON) method is only meaningful if one has not ranked all the candidates (ie, in this example, ranked only 0, 1, 2 or 3 candidates).

    The Re-open Nominations (RON) method allows the voter to make an official abstention after having ranked as many candidates as (s)he chooses. There is more than one way of implementing RON, but the simplest is as follows. There is a separate box for RON which can be ticked or not ticked by the voter. On each completed ballot paper, any RON vote come into effect when all the ranked candidates have had their vote reallocated; the RON vote is never reallocated but remains for all subsequent rounds of voting. Without ticking the RON box, the ballot paper would be ignored after all ranked candidates have had their votes reallocated. Thus, with RON, the final round will be the one remaining candidate versus the RON votes: if RON has more votes, a new election is required; otherwise the last remaining candidate is elected.

    [Aside: if the RON option is not used, all completed ballot papers that do not make it to the last round are ignored. Thus the 50% level is eventually reached all cases, by one of the candidates (though there can be a tie – extremely rare and usually resolved by a recount or by the Returning Officer having a casting vote).]

    With RON, on the ballot paper where there are 0, 1, 2 or 3 ranked candidates, the number of options is doubled. So we have 24 ways of simply ranking for 4 candidates, 2*24 ways (two times for RON/notRON) of voting ranks for 3 candidates, 2*12 ways of voting ranks for 2 candidates (also two times for RON/notRON), 2*4 ways of voting for 1 candidate (also two times for RON/notRON) and 2 ways of voting for zero candidates (that is just RON/nonRON). This adds up to 24+2*24+2*12+2*4+2, which is 106 different ways of voting.

    The use of entropy, measured in bits/ballot paper, is a convenient and meaningful way of comparing the different voting methods, that is more obvious (both in information theory and common understanding) that the total number of ways of voting. The entropy measured in bits is, in this simple and approximate example, the logarithm to base 2 of the number of voting options. Thus each extra bit (ie binary digit) of entropy represents twice as many ways of voting.

    In my example of 4 candidates, assuming all ballot completions are equally likely (which is only a coarse approximation on average), the summary is as follows:

    FPTP (with blank vote option)………..5 ways to vote…….approx 2.32 bits of information
    AV (‘Australian’ method)……………24 ways to vote…….approx 4.59 bits of information
    AV (proposed UK method)…………….65 ways to vote…….approx 6.02 bits of information
    AV (with RON option)………………106 ways to vote…….approx 6.73 bits of information

    IMHO, more ways of voting, within the range likely for House of Commons elections, is a good thing. It gives the electorate more ways of expressing their view.

    3. James:

    This video is a nice and simple explanation of the proposed AV method in the referendum. Though clearly partisan, IMHO it has no bias in its presentation of the description of the method of voting or of the method of counting.

    4. James: “One gets the donkey vote and reverse donkey, as people just put 1-2-3-4 etc. So a candidate named Adams benefits in this over a candidate named Zog.”

    The order of candidates on ballot papers is usually randomised after nominations are closed, so there is no favouritism of ‘A’ over ‘Z’, etc. Thus candidates cannot obtain this advantage by changing their names by deed poll for the election period.

    However, the ‘donkey’ vote is a problem in Australia, where people are forced to vote where they might have no opinion, or might be actively and equally against the election of any further candidates than those they have ranked. Likewise, voting is compulsory in Australian national elections: IMHO not a good idea.

    If the voting method in the UK is properly explained to people, they should be aware that such ‘donkey’ votes are unnecessary and also may well cause an effect that the voter does not want.

    5. James: “The system does require more time to count but what’s time compared to fairness?”

    Agreed that the cost/time issue should not be relevant in the case of FPTP versus AV.

    With scanning of ballot papers and semi-automatic optical character recognition (ie manual checking of a proportion of ballots and especially those the OCR ‘thinks’ are doubtful), the time and cost is reduced. In any case, I would recommend automatic counting and reallocation of votes; it is only getting the votes into the computer that is expensive.

    6. James: “Is there a quorum for this referendum? For example, if 20% of the voting population turn out, is it valid? Should it be?”

    My understanding is that there is no quorum for this referendum, and that setting a quorum was considered: introduced in the House of Lords and defeated in the House of Commons.

    Personally, I think that setting a quorum would be difficult, especially if it was missed by a small amount.

    It would be better, if there was a very low turnout, to allow Parliament to introduce a new Bill revoking the old Bill before the next election. I’d also be in favour of the Queen exercising her choice in the event of a very low turnout – requiring that we have another go in say 2 or 3 years, about a year before the next general election.

    It is worrying for me that people and the MSM (and bloggosphere too) are only taking a serious interest in this issue during the last few days before the vote.

    Best regards

  11. May 5, 2011 at 10:04

    I am a little disappointed in that he seems to be including me in his “therefore wildly speculating as to how it works”

    Nigel – I would never dare. I have also included your comment over at Orphans.

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