“If I ask you to go and buy me a chocolate bar and say, ‘I’d like a Mars but if they don’t have that I’d like a Twix’ and you come back with a Twix, I still only have one chocolate bar.”
07/04/2011 BBC Question Time
Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP, does not seem like the consciously fraudulent type, so I shall assume this piece of ‘Yes to AV’ sophistry was uttered due to her genuine inability to understand the art of analogy.
It was offered as a response to the most significant criticism of the alternative voting system; that the principle of one person one vote is compromised, rendering the AV an undemocratic system. I am yet to hear a satisfactory reply, mainly due to the fact that the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign has only offered a reply to the criticism that they think is being made, as opposed to listening to what the actual criticism is.
Firstly I am keen to point out that when Swinson’s analogy is examined closely one realises that the resulting chocolate bar she receives is in fact analogous with the result of the election, not with the number of her preferences that influenced the election result. Whether we vote under the AV system or the FPTP system we still get one government, similarly Swinson only receives one chocolate bar. But this is not the criticism the ‘No to AV’ campaign was making. Nor is the criticism one that says some will have more votes included in the final calculation than others.
When it is said that AV will mean that the principle of one person one vote is compromised, what is meant is that some voters will have more of their choices influencing the final calculation than others. In Swinson’s colourful example, the equivalent of her casting votes in an election is her selection of chocolate preferences that takes places before the eventual chocolate bar is sought after and obtained. The fact she only receives a Twix at the end is completely irrelevant.
The ‘Yes to AV’ campaign seems to be suggesting in response to the aforementioned criticism that when the second, third, fourth etc. rounds of vote calculation occur, they negate the previous round of eliminated votes as if they no longer exist. So whichever one of your votes was the one used in the final decisive calculation is the only one that has any influence. Thus one person gets one say.
This is untrue. The earlier rounds do have an influence. Let us say that somebody votes for UKIP and then said party is eliminated. The UKIP voters will have their second choices referred to. The party that they voted for in the first place, UKIP, whilst eliminated, determines whether they get their second choices recognised. So I do not think it is the case that you can dismiss their eliminated choices as if they had no influence on the outcome. When your further preferences are referred to, it was specifically who the now eliminated earlier choices were that triggered the need for your further choices to be used. The identity of the earlier eliminated choices determines whether or not your further preferences will be recognised. Whilst the eliminated choices are not counted in the final calculation, the purity of the voting system is undermined.
To return to chocolate bars, when the shop customer brings back Swinson’s Twix, it was the fact that she said Mars and not some other chocolate bar that they did have in stock, which meant that her second preference, Twix, was referred to. The eliminated first choice has a significance- what it was determines whether the second preference is referred to or not.
When things are the other way around and your first preference is included in the final calculation, as you voted for a popular party, then your second, third, fourth etc. preferences do genuinely remain dormant because they have no influence on anything at all. Thus the principle of “one person one vote” is compromised.
If the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign fails to listen to this criticism and properly address it, instead of merely addressing the criticism that they want it to be, then those of us who remain unsatisfied will register a ‘No’ vote on May 5th.