Will voters decide to change the British voting system?

The question being asked is should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead of the present ‘first past the post’ system when electing MPs to the house of commons.

Under the current first past the post system voters simply chose their preferred candidate. Whether the one who wins secures less than half of the total vote they will still be elected.

The alternative vote system would change this, if the UK changes the voting system voters will be able to rank their candidates in order of preference.

If a candidate gains more than 50 per cent of first choices they would be elected.

If not this new system would mean the candidate in last place would be eliminated and their second choices redistributed. This process would be repeated until one candidate secures an absolute majority.

These are the central arguments for AV:

  • More than two out of every three MPs are currently elected despite more constituents voting for someone else. Just 1.6% of voters – fewer than 450,000 – effectively decided the last election;
  • Under AV, candidates will have to gain the support of 50% of voters;
  • MPs will have to work harder and reach out to a much wider range of people if they are forced to seek a much higher proportion of support in the area.
  • AV, or a form of it, is used by the House of Commons, most political parties and a broad range of corporations and civic groups;
  • Australia, despite using AV, has had fewer hung parliaments than the UK.

These are the principal arguments for a No vote in the referendum:

  • It is unfair that the person who comes third in the first round can end up winning; the then Australian prime minister John Howard lost his seat under AV in 2007 despite winning the most first preference votes;
  • AV is confusing for voters, lacking the simplicity of FPTP.
  • AV would replace clear outcomes with a situation where ”the Liberal Democrats choose the government after each election”
  • AV is expensive, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in electronic counting equipment.
  • Only three countries in the world use AV: Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.