Letter to The Times

For those who don’t read The Times, it carried a letter of mine in today’s edition:

Sir, William Waldegrave (“Why I refused to sign the ‘no to AV’ letter”, Opinion, Mar 31) makes the point that under AV one’s vote remains of equal weight throughout.  That is precisely the problem.  You list the candidates in order of preference.  Your first choice is presumably the person you wish to represent you.  Your fifth choice is probably the person you regard as marginally less appalling than the candidate you put in sixth place.  If those you listed as your first four preferences are eliminated, your vote for the fifth candidate counts the same as the vote of someone whose first choice has remained in the ballot.  The votes are equal.  The preferences of the voters are not.

PROFESSOR, THE LORD NORTON OF LOUTH, Professor of Government, University of Hull

A similar letter has also been published in the London Evening Standard.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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13 Responses to Letter to The Times

  1. Jonathan says:

    Slightly off-topic, but I discovered today, from a colleague in this position, that EU citizens will be able to vote in the AV referendum, even though they are ineligible to vote in a general election. Is that daft or what? Could it mean more votes in favour of AV, if it’s seen a a more continental system of voting?

    • Carl.H says:

      Anyone who is not currently registered to vote needs to apply by Thursday 14 April 2011.

      To be eligible to register you need to be:

      •16 or over (but you cannot vote until your 18th birthday)
      •British or Commonwealth citizens
      •Citizens of the Irish Republic
      •or Citizens of other European Union (EU) countries (but note that EU Citizens cannot vote in the Referendum but can vote in local elections on May 5).

      • Jonathan says:

        Well, it seems the poll card didn’t say that he wasn’t eligible to vote in the referendum, and he was unaware of this. Presumably the list at the polling station will tell the staff not to give him a ballot paper?

        On a similar note, are peers able to vote in the referendum?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Jonathan: Yes, peers can vote in the referendum. Provision is made in the Act.

    • ladytizzy says:

      Brits living abroad (world-wide) can also vote unless they have lived outside of the UK for more than 15 years. Why 15 is better than 5, 20 or until death is a mystery.

  2. Tim says:

    To continue beating my dead horse, surely to a certain extent that’s true under the current system? There’s no distinction between voting for a party because you want it to win and voting for a party because it’s marginally least bad.

    • Carl.H says:

      90% Agree with

      67% Agree with

      48% Agree with

      39% Agree with

      22% Agree with

      All those votes could carry the same weight. Being as politicians now believe the public are apathetic to politics, are we now designing a system, AV, where politicians don’t care as long as they get the vote ?

      Are we simply trying to manipulate the figures so it LOOKS like 50% voted them in ?

      Is the AV system in the best interest of the electorate or certain party’s and politicians ? My firm belief is that if it was in the interest of the electorate a proper system of PR would be up for discussion. How did we get that so much money is being spent, so much time and effort being devoted to a bribe because make no mistake this is what this is. And yet AV isn’t what the Lib-Dems want, nor the Labour Party and definitely not the Tory.

      Should we have a system designed by Bodgitt & Scarper or should all the options be on the table. Surely if we’re going to talk grown up, serious discussion and decisions about who governs our Country, we should be looking at the best system available FOR THE ELECTORATE ?

      • Jonathan says:

        AV doesn’t even ensure that 50% of electors voted for their MP. As the Electoral Commission’s leaflet says:

        “Because voters don’t have to rank all of the candidates, an election can be won under the ‘alternative vote’ system with less than half the total votes cast.”

        So it could be that someone with neither definition of a majority ends up being elected!

        I do have one gripe about the “accessible” leaflet:

        The diagrams illustrating the AV count process show the top two candidates as having received almost an equal number of votes to start with, whereas the illustration for FPTP shows the first candidate as being further ahead. Electors may think it’s fair when two candidates are almost neck-and-neck for second preferences to decide the election; however, they may not think it’s fair if candidate A gets far more first votes, but the majority of candidate C’s supporters have put B as their second choice, and so candidate B wins. By not using the same distribution of votes for the two diagrams, I consider it a slight bias towards AV on the part of the Electoral Commission.

      • Chris K says:

        That was the first thing I noticed in the leaflet too, Jonathan. And unusually I wasn’t even looking for bias, though that was definitely what I got.

        Although presumably the pro-AV lobby would’ve complained if someone with 45% of first preferences ended up being beaten on 4th preferences.

        They should have used the same diagrams, I agree.

      • Jonathan says:

        On the other hand, Chris K, the first candidate still wins in the end after the whole AV process, so perhaps the Electoral Commission’s hidden message is that AV is a waste of time!

  3. ladytizzy says:

    I agree, Carl. It does seem that most advocates of AV see it merely as a stepping stone to a PR system. If they manage to convince the voters that it is the best solution to all the ills that apparently only exist in FPTP they are set to come a cropper when they reveal their true intentions. In particular, PR systems do not maintain the constituency link, about the only thing AV has got going for it.

    Whatever the outcome of this referendum, PR advocates have blown their chance for another 50 years.

  4. ladytizzy says:

    “Even if the Yes camp wins the electoral reform referendum, there’s no guarantee that the Alternative Vote will be used at the next election. As the Electoral Commission’s guide to the referendum points out, it depends on the successful completion of the boundary review.

    The booklet notes:

    The “alternative vote” system will be used after a review of the boundaries of the area that each MP represents (known as their constituency) is completed. This is due to happen between 2011 and 2013. The review will happen regardless of the outcome of this referendum.

    At the end of the review, the UK parliament will vote on implementing the new boundaries. If the new boundaries are implemented, the “alternative vote” system will be used for all future elections to the House of Commons.

    In other words, if, for whatever reason, the boundary review is not approved by parliament in time for the next election, the Alternative Vote will not be used.

    The Electoral Commission press office confirmed that if there’s an election between now and 2013, it will be fought under first-past-the-post.

    Among other things, this provides the Lib Dems with a clear incentive to remain in the coalition until 2015.”


  5. Carl.H says:

    Less than a month to go and I’ve had nothing through my door regards AV but then nor have I had any other political material.

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