Tomorrow, May 5th, the nation will decide whether to adopt the AV system in only the second referendum of its kind this country has ever seen.
The choice seems simple, mark ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a big black cross and wait for the outcome, which will be announced less than 24 hours later.
But actually the AV system is so complicated that most of the people voting either for or against it are unlikely to fully understand it.
Heavily simplified, AV means that the voter ranks the candidates in their preferred order, several times as ‘unpopular’ candidates are eliminated by their lack of votes and their votes are then transferred to another candidate.
A YouTube video which uses cats and dogs to try to explain the complexities of the AV versus the FPTP system has had 172,682 views at the time of writing. This is thousands more ‘views’ than any of the other AV videos currently available to view but that probably tells us nothing we didn’t know already – people will watch cats do anything on YouTube!
Strongly in favour of the AV reform, the cat at the end of the video urges ‘Vote yes on May 5th!’
While we salute the marketing ingenuity behind the video, it rather glosses over the problems of the system.
The main argument for AV is that too many votes are wasted under the current system as preferences beyond one candidate are not taken into consideration, basically that the voter is not given a second choice. (The Telegraph)
As the number of voters dwindle an estimated two thirds of MPs are elected with less than 50% of the votes.
But the AV system allows a third choice candidate to end up as the overall winner, something which FPTP supporters argue threatens our democracy.
First Past the Post supporters argue that the system generally provides a stable government as it provides a clear winner based on the manifestos and policies of the candidates in the run up to the election. FPTP supporters view can be summed up as ‘if it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it’.
AV is the system used to choose X Factors winners and worryingly the voting figures for last season’s X Factor final are comparative to the number of votes Cameron received to become PM in the last election, 10 million of the 19 million viewers cast their vote for one of the two X Factor finalists, while Cameron was elected with just over 10.6 million votes, despite 34% of voters counting themselves as ‘undecided’ the day before the election. (bbc.co.uk)
And the indecision rife during the last election would only be magnified if we were to introduce the AV system.
Experts believe that the Liberal Democrats would benefit most from AV being introduced, which perhaps explains why current Prime Minister David Cameron is against the switch to AV while second in command Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg supports it. Labour leader Ed Miliband supports AV but in doing so has divided his party.
These rifts are already causing instability within the government, regardless of the result of the vote.
And elsewhere in the world there is little support for the AV system.
Currently, Australia is the only major democratic country to use the AV system as voting is compulsory there. Proportional representation or FPTP systems are used by the overwhelming majority of democracies.
If AV is the winner tomorrow, the country may just wake up and realise too late that the majority of us have lost out.