Saturday 2 April 2011

Are you interested in voting reform?

The reason I ask is that on the 5th of May there's going to be a referendum on whether we should change this country's voting system.

Don't tell me you didn't know about this? It's not everyday we have referendums and if we're potentially going to decide on changing our voting system, it's a pretty important topic to think about.

I've been reading a few reports here and there on the vote - the arguments for and against First Past the Post, or AV (The Alternative Vote) My problem is this: When I think about it, the more I realise I'm not really that bothered!

Part of me says I shouldn't think like this, and my attitude does surprise me; but it got me thinking. If someone like me can’t get excited about this vote (and I’m into my politics) does anyone else out there actually care?

If you don't know or you've forgotten why we're having this vote, it's because of the result of last year's General Election.

One of the conditions of the Lib Dems forming a coalition government with the Conservatives was that there would have to be a vote on electoral reform. This is the Holy Grail for many Lib Dems which isn't a surprise as under the current system they have the biggest disadvantage to overcome.

In the UK we use the First Past the Post (FPTP) system. In each parliamentary seat whichever candidate receives the most votes wins the seat. The Party that wins the most seats forms the government.

The problem with FPTP, is that the number of seats won by a Party doesn't always reflect the share of votes received. You end up with loads of 'safe' seats around the country where your vote doesn't count for much.

The alternative on offer is the Alternative Vote (AV) where voters rank candidates in order of preference.

To get elected a candidate has to win 50% of the vote. I this doesn't happen in the first round of voting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choices are allocated to the remaining candidates for the second round of counting.

If a candidate then has 50% of the vote they get elected - if not there's a third round of counting. Still keeping up? Supporters of AV argue that less votes are wasted under AV.

It's important to remember that there's no perfect voting system, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.

One of the strengths of FPTP is it leads to strong stable government. It's served this country well and for Labour and the Tories its worked in their favour. The problem for the Lib Dems is that they win so few seats in comparison to the number of votes they receive.

I've looked at a few stats, and it shows that even under AV the election results over the last 40 years wouldn't have been that different. The Lib Dems would have picked up more seats but not enough to ever form a government.

Last week, we had demonstrations in London over government cuts, the public aren't demonstrating over the unfairness of our voting system, it just isn't a major issue for most people.

When you look at the state of the economy, people losing their jobs, and the cuts, people have more important things to worry about.

For me it just doesn't seem that relevant at the moment. It's a referendum that's being imposed upon people, rather than something the public are demanding.

I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to vote. I probably will, but for all its faults I'm going to stick with First Past the Post.

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