Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why I am voting ἀντί

[by Brian King]

The referendum will determine our electoral system for the next (and all subsequent) elections. The choices are between the current system and the new 'Alternative Vote' (AV).

Under AV, ballot papers are allocated to each member of the electorate, who then expresses preferences on the ballot as to whom should be elected. These ballots are collected and aggregated by the Returning Officer to form a determination of the constituency's collective preference.

Under the current system, the Returning Officer selects a stone from an amphora: the colour of the stone determines the winner for that constitutency. This is known as the 'first picked for the post' (FPTP) system.

'Is AV fairer than FPTP?'
No. Under FPTP, every stone in the amphora has an equal chance of being drawn. Under AV, the winner is sometimes determined by votes other than the first one considered. THE WINNER SHOULD BE THE ONE THAT COMES FIRST.

'Does AV violate the One Man, One Vote principle?'
Yes. Under FPTP there is one man --- the Returning Officer --- who gets one vote, viz. the stone he draws from the amphora. Under AV, multiple people, each expressing one or more preferences, must be taken into account.

'Is AV more democratic?'
No. Most leading political theorists (e.g. Herodotus and Aristotle) agree that FPTP is best for democracy. Under AV only popular, well-liked candidates could take up seats. In order for democracy to be truly representative, there must be a chance that someone truly despicable be made MP.

'Would AV help extremist parties?'
Yes. Most people like the major parties, and in most constituencies only stones of their colour are put into the amphora. Under AV, the preferences of extremists would be taken into consideration, instead of being ignored as under FPTP, leading to the bizarre spectacle of candidates attempting to convince most of their constituents to support them.

'Does FPTP lead to stronger governments?'
Yes. Typically, most MPs belong to one or the other of the major parties under FPTP. This means they have comfortable majorities in Parliament and hence can ignore (e.g.) the fact that the majority of the country opposes their policies. Under AV, the government would not have remained in power after the Poll Tax or the Iraq War, whereas the votes under FPTP meant that the unpopularity of those policies had no effect on those governments' ability to carry on in office.

'Would AV lead to more coalitions?'
Yes. Probably. Even if one party had an absolute majority under AV, the government would still be based on compromise, since MPs would have to have (in some form or another) the support of most of their constituents. Under AV, sometimes the MP would be a compromise choice, the 'best of a bad lot' so to speak, thereby preventing the worst of a bad lot from having any chance of winning!

'Will AV put an end to "safe seats''?'
No. In some constituencies, only stones of a single colour are placed in the amphora. Though these so-called 'safe seats' would not be possible under AV, there may still be constituencies where a majority of the electorate support a particular party, meaning that those seats would be functionally equivalent.

'Will AV put an end to "tactical voting''?'
No. 'Tactical voting' is the practice of trying to determine the colour of the stones in the amphora by their tactile properties (temperature, texture, etc). AV will, of course, prevent this kind of voting, but it will not (e.g.) stop people from voting in ways they think will have the greatest likelihood of producing the outcome that they prefer.

'Is AV the same as PR?'
No. Prophetic revelation ('PR') relies on divine intervention to determine the winner. This can take many forms (augury, oracular pronouncements, the headline of The Sun, etc), but AV is not one of them. PR would be preferable to AV (and, arguably, to FPTP), but this is not one of the options. Likewise, the so-called 'Apostolic Vote' (AV+), which uses something like AV to select two candidates and then casts lots to decide between them (Cf. Acts 1:23ff.), while superior to AV, is not one of the options.

'I hate Thucydides: how ought I to vote so as to express this fact?'
You should vote ἀντί. The fact that you would base your decision on such petty grounds is one of the most powerful arguments against taking your preferences into account in determining the make-up of Parliament.

'What if we instituted AV, but then only took into account each voter's first preference?'
This would be to take the worst of AV without any of its benefits. The result would be MPs selected on the basis of their having the support of the largest minority in their constituency. However much they are despised, so long as their opponents can't all agree on a single rival, they will be elected again and again. Changes of government, far from being based on collective preference (AV) or chance (FPTP), would instead be based on exaggerations of relatively minor changes of preference in relatively few parts of the country. Parties would exploit this fact, courting solid minorities rather than broad majorities, leading to polarization and a tendency toward a two-party system. Voters would, instead of expressing a preference about all the candidates, merely express a preference between the two candidates they believed most likely to win. To employ this system in determining our MPs would be a truly miserable little compromise.




  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is not by me, hence the new blogpage. It's by the very wise and wonderful Brian King. I just put it up online, and can't work out how to have a picture of him on here but of me on my own blog. That's the information age for you, I expect.