Wednesday, 4 May 2011

May 5th Elections and Yes to AV

Northern Ireland May Election 2011 posters
'New Road Layout Ahead' gets my 1st preference!
It's that time again - time to head to the local polling station and cast not one, not two but three votes. The first two ballot papers will be the Local Council election and the National Assembly election and the third for a referendum on the AV voting system.

Voting in North Belfast I already know that I might as well not bother in the first two given there are already candidates almost certain to be elected on the back of their tribal branding.

It's like the democratic version of going to the supermarket and asking for a bottle of water but knowing you're going to end up being given a bottle of engine oil and a bottle of bleach - not exactly what is needed when you're thirsty as both will be hard to swallow and damaging in both the short and long term, but never the less it's what we're given by 'popular' demand.

I will be voting though. No point giving up as it's good to try and dilute things a bit. Sadly, the Greens haven't even been bothered to run a candidate in my area this time (for either vote, to be honest I don't blame them) so the lack of choice is truly underwhelming. I'm quite tempted to make an origami penguin out of my ballot papers just to give someone a smile but in reality, after doing my research again, it'll likely be a 1st preference vote for the Alliance candidate in each but after that I'm drawing a bit of a blank for 2nd preference let alone a 3rd or any other.

There is a silver lining somewhere in these elections though and that is the referendum. Sure, given a choice I wouldn't have AV or First Past the Post... so it is a bit of a bleach and engine oil choice again however at least there is a referendum.

In a twist of fate, the Assembly election will already be using what I would consider a better voting system - that of the Single Transferable Vote (a type of proportional representation). So this referendum for the General Election voting system isn't exactly the most amazing referendum there could ever be but it's a rare occasion anything is put to a referendum so probably good to make the most of it.

I'll be voting Yes to AV. Sure it's not perfect and it's not even as fair as some forms of proportional representation but it is at least a change towards that distant daydream of a majority view of the populous being represented in parliament (even if like in Northern Ireland I might personally disagree with that majority view).

The current first past the post method means that if there are many candidates in a vote, a candidate can be elected just by having the largest minority and a majority view being disregarded and worse than that in my eyes, FPTP is great for the more right wing 'traditional' parties - after all, there is a reason our out of touch Prime Minister and the BNP are campaigning for a No to AV vote. As stupid as they might look, they do have advisor's and they know a fairer representation will eat into their meal ticket.

As I don't really want either voting system but a third choice that we aren't being offered. The overriding thing (other than the reasoning above) for me voting Yes is the No campaign itself.

The No campaign's main reasoning is: "Our current tried and tested voting system gives everyone one vote and delivers clear outcomes. The Alternative Vote is a complicated, expensive and unfair"

Sure, FPTP gives everyone one vote... but then this current voting system means it is very likely that the majority of people's votes are not going to count for anything - your fate is in the hands of a few swing voters in a few locations in England - great if you live there but what about the rest of us whose choices are just swept under the carpet?

As for the criticism of AV as being complicated - The system we have for the Assembly elections here in N.I is already more complicated to understand at a mathematical level - at least with the vote counting - but yet amazingly, thinking of who you want to vote for and putting them in number order has turned out to be scarily simple. Sure, if you want a 2nd preference then it's not as easy as counting to 1 but somehow I think we'll all manage if we've managed to make it to the polling booth- obviously the No Campaigners missed that episode of Sesame Street with the count.

"Expensive"... only if you believe that a new state of the art system of voting machines will be rolled out - and given the fact STV requires more math and we still have hand counting, it seems a little presumptuous they would be needed... again with the whole No Campaigners missing too many Sesame Streets - I'll try to help... One vote... ah ah ah... twooo votes ah ah ah...

"Unfair"... but still fairer than FPTP!

Anyways, that's just my 2 cents on it all.

Happy Voting :)

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