Monday, 28 February 2011

Packed full of deceit, the next stage of the No campaign!

So after No2AV's calamity of an advertising campaign where they focused on trying to insult our intelligence, that a change to AV would kill babies and kill troops, a campaign that has been found to be less than honest by Channel 4's factcheck, and not based on reality according to the they move back on to more comfortable ground for them.

More comfortable, but no more honest of course. It's back to "bash Nick Clegg and hope we can make capital off of it!" time!

"Say no to President Clegg" they say, again insulting our intelligence. Their text on their main poster on their own website says the following...and boy is it packed full of deceit:

"Under the Alternative Voting system Nick Clegg would have the power to choose the government."

1) Under the FPTP system, Nick Clegg would have the power to choose government too, if all you're talking about here is coalitions...since coalitions are no more likely under AV than FPTP, and an independent report states that we may well have coalition's under FPTP for some years to come...

2) Even if the problem here is coalitions it is not Nick Clegg who has the power, it is the Liberal Democrat elected into their position by the voters wishes around the country, who have to ratify the decision to join with a certain party or not to form coalition. One man, like Clegg, does not have the final say.

3) If a party like Labour or the Tories don't want to go in to coalition with the Lib Dems, they don't have to. The Tories had every opportunity to be a minority government with an agreement from the Lib Dems to pass their budgets.

"NOT you."

Except YOU have elected a hung parliament, have decided that you can't work out exactly who you want to govern. You have chosen your parties, and under AV we would have a good idea about what kind of policies you like through your first AND second preferences. This would much better inform the smaller parties like the Lib Dems so that they only ever supported parties to make government that reflected the larger wishes of the country.

And, of course, this is something that is just as likely to happen under FPTP, if not more than it would with AV.

"Say NO to spending £250million on AV."

And yet unperturbed by being proven wrong on this issue, including the fact that by their own figures at least £80million of that figure will be spent whether you say no or not, they continue to peddle this lie over cost. But then is this a surprise from a group of people and their supporters who put the length of time it takes to count an election, and the relatively tiny cost of administering an election, above voters getting who they really want as their MP?

And the winner is...

Last night saw the Academy Awards gift the King's Speech with several Oscars, and a good amount of positive reputation for British talent at the whole ceremony. However it interests me that Toby Young tweeted this before the awards...

Best Picture is decided by AV. Does this mean the least offensive film will win rather than the best? #No2AV #Oscars2011

See the tweet here.

The nominee's were:

The King's Speech
Winter's Bone
127 Hours
The Kids Are Alright
True Grit
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
Black Swan
The Social Network.

We know now that the winner was, indeed, the King's Speech, however does it's win mean that it can only be classed as the least offensive film, not the best as well? I don't think so...

Let's imagine how the voting went, no-one does know how it went but for illustrative purposes it doesn't really matter what the reality is in showing that the King's Speech those eligible to vote...the best film.

Voting via AV, let's assume that Toy Story 3 gained the least amount of votes in the first round. What this tells us is that a) Toy Story 3 was the least impressive film to the voters, and that the remaining films are the best of the rest.

Next round, The Kids are Alright goes, again showing that it is the least impressive film of what remains, while those still in the running are the best of the rest. Next round, Winter's Bone, then 127 Days. We are left with The King's Speech, Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, and The Fighter. By still being here it has been decided that in head-to-head run-offs they are the best films.

The next film to be the least liked is The Fighter, with those who voted for it transferring their votes upwards, and then Inception goes. We can imagine this is actually a close race for the purposes of illustration, and so we are left with The King's Speech, Black Swan and The Social Network.

These three films are, clearly, the best films that are around by the fact that the "worst" films have been eliminated round by round. This is the final round and now Black Swan is eliminated, gifting the win to the King's Speech.

The King's Speech is the best film, in the final round it had more people voting for it as the better film than those who voted for any of it's head-to-head the illustration this was just The Social Network.

If this was a FPTP result, where only two nominee's were picked then there would be no question that The King's Speech was the best film, yet for some reason because we've arrived at it by more comprehensively understanding how films relate to each other in the voter's eyes, and by ensuring that no film loses votes simply because of vote splitting, this is an indication of the film not being the best? Crazy.

Friday, 25 February 2011

How much would AV really cost? (hint: Not £250 million)

Before I get in to my reasoning, here are the top line results I've found. Note that all figures are as worse case as I can reasonably make them for the next election...

Extra cost to count an AV election: £1.3m nationally per election
Extra cost to educate: Potentially an extra £2m per election year at most (£8m over 4 years).
Extra cost to run this referendum: Cost of referendum is seen as the same cost as an election, so £90m £110m, but more realistically only 60% of that cost if run on the same day as other polls as many costs are shared. £54m £66m.
Extra voter education on referendum: As above, an extra £4m at most spanning two financial years. Edit: It turns out that No2AV aren't specifically talking about just voter education for this referendum, so I'll use the Electoral Commissions £9m estimate as the No side have.

This works out at a total yearly cost, over the course of 4 years until the next election is complete, would be £16.8m £20.75m, or £67.3m £83m over the 4 years. Of this cost £58m £72m (dependent on voter awareness) will be spent no matter what happens with the referendum result. This cost is also assuming that voter education is maxed out every year to educate about AV, something that may not be realistic.

A long cry from "£250m unless you vote no"!

Not that any of this really matters, the cost implication, when such small amounts of money (in the national sense), being discussed with relation to increasing democratic integrity of our voting system is a perverse discussion to have anyway. But referendum aside, are we really going to get angry over an absolute maximum of about 4p per year per person to have a more inclusive, honest, transparent and ultimately fairer system for the individual voter?

But anyway, how to work this out? You can do it for yourself if you like...

First of all, the referendum. This is a cost that will be incurred regardless of the result. You can argue all you like about how much the cost is too much, but it is going to happen. The question is whether you engage with it or not, if you do then voting No will not make the referendum itself cheaper.

The cost of the referendum has been estimated in the House of Commons at £82m. This, I feel, is an under estimate of the total cost of a stand-alone referendum. The Ministry for Justice (who pay out for election costs) paid around £90m for the last european elections[1]. The count was more complicated, but turnout was lower, than FPTP. I'd prefer to use this value as it won't under-value the cost.

However this referendum won' be stand-alone, it will be held along side our local elections (and others in Scotland). When assessing this in 1999 the presumption was that a referendum would cost £50m if standalone, but that only £30m would be extra cost above another poll[2]. As such I think it is only reasonable to assume similarly that the referendum's true cost is more likely to be £54m, 60% of the stand-alone cost. This is because costs such as security, building hire, postage, overseers and more can be shared across the multiple elections, while time taken to count and cost of printing materials cannot.

EDIT: New information from parliament shows that the estimate for the cost of the 2010 election stands at around £110m, up from the cost of the 2005 election. With a few more seats, a greater turnout, and inflation this all seems to be about right. As such the cost is likely to be up from the £54m I state above, to £66m

Referendum cost difference to No 2 AV estimate: -£28m -£16m

Then there is the need for some voter education on the referendum. No2AV have this at £9m, though I am unsure of where they are getting this figure from. The reason I say this is that it is the Electoral Commission who have the responsibility for raising voter awareness as an arm of the state. Other organisations and groups can no doubt do what they wish as well, and do, but in terms of public funding the Electoral Commission is the only body that receives our money to educate people about elections and registering to vote.

It's important to know that the Electoral Commission is bound by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000[3], where under Section 13(1) it is made clear their responsibility is to raise awareness for voting systems in the UK.

(1)The Commission shall promote public awareness of—

(a)current electoral systems in the United Kingdom and any pending such systems, together with such matters connected with any such existing or pending systems as the Commission may determine;

(b)current systems of local government and national government in the United Kingdom and any pending such systems; and

(c)the institutions of the European Union.

More specifically...

(4)The Commission shall perform their functions under subsection (1) in such manner as they think fit but may, in particular, do so by—

(a)carrying out programmes of education or information to promote public awareness of any of the matters mentioned in subsection (1); or

(b)making grants to other persons or bodies for the purpose of enabling them to carry out such programmes.

This is all well and good, but it is regulated in how much it can spend each financial year on these purposes by a statutory instrument, The Electoral Commission (Limit on Public Awareness Expenditure) Order 2002[4]. This puts a block of £7.5m per year on spending for awareness, which includes voter education. For them to spend £9m they would have to be spending some money from this current financial year and a significant amount of the next financial year's allowance too.

The money for voter awareness clearly spans in to many areas, such as registering to vote, how the voting systems work, etc. As such it is also money required for general use in other elections too, such as our local elections and the General Election just past. I feel I'm being very liberal in my allocation of money to the AV referendum by saying that £5.5m of the yearly allowance is certain to be already spent on the last set of General and Local elections, which only leaves £2m left to actually use this year. That's if it gets used of course, and next year the likelihood is that another £5.5m will be certainly used on voter awareness even if the AV referendum wasn't taking place.

Take a look at the Electoral Commission's reports for yourself, in 2009-2010[5] they only spent this £5.5m, while in other years (such as the General Election year in 2005[6], and a year with only local elections in 2006[7]) they spent more than this. It is unfeasible that, even taking in to account the two years as a source of funding that they could use, more than £4m could be spent on education for the AV referendum.

EDIT: It turns out that the No camp aren't talking purely about voter awareness when they talk about this figure, but the wider costs of the Electoral Commission running the referendum. It is debatable as to whether this cost is included in the costs that are given in Parliament for each election, however for the sake of continuing a worse case scenario I'm assuming it is not. £9m is what the Electoral Commission say it'll cost them in this referendum, so that's what we'll go with.

Referendum education cost difference to No 2 AV estimate: -£5m £0m

That brings us now on to the cost of the actual voting system and it's use every 5 years.

First up, we can discount No 2 Av's £130m estimate of costs for voting machines straight away. They aren't necessary (and I'll hopefully show you why they're not necessary in my workings next, it's pretty damn obvious why they're surplus to requirements), they aren't used in places like Australia that have counted their results by hand for almost a century. There is no proof even that it is likely that electronic voting machines will be used, as Channel 4's Fact Check[8] revealed today.

But how about the extra time and money to count by hand?

In Bristol there were 929 staff in 2010, therefore likely around 150 counting staff for Bristol North West[9], of which about half would be doing the real counting (my old constituency, and a three way marginal in all but name before the election) as one of four constituencies in the city. The average rate to count for staff involved is 150 ballots per hour with 50336 ballots to count for the General Election; they should therefore complete the total count for the general election alone in around 4 hours (though administration may mean this is less efficient, and rechecks or close counts may also increase times).

Further facts: Bristol North West had 36 polling stations, an electorate of around 73500 people, a turnout of 50336, and I'm assuming 6750 postal votes were cast (out of a therefore assumed 9000 total registered based on Ministry of Justice basis for cost calculations) based on an equal share of 27000[10] in all of Bristol.

The cost of administering Bristol North West would have been estimated using Justice Ministry figures[11] at around £97.5k + the returning officer's fee (around £2500).

In Bristol North West about 30% of the ballots might have had to be recounted (a high figure given the three way marginal nature of the seat, and certainly not as likely in most other constituencies where recounts would be needed), or no more than 130 hours worth of counting staff's time (19500 votes cumulatively, recounted at 150 per hour). This is a maximum because counting techniques that bunch people's next preference together can reduce the time needed to count by "block" counting a shift in votes, and the additional time assumes that people vote in such a way that the maximum number of redistributions need to take place.

But even with a worse case scenario here that is at most (assuming some counting staff aren't used, or my counting staff estimate is too high) an extra cost of less than £2200, or 2.2% extra cost incurred of the whole of constituency cost of election (19.96% of the FPTP counting cost).

This would be replicated across all but a third of the constituencies (most likely, due to those MPs already sitting on 50% wins), to bring that percentage increase down to about 1.2% across all constituencies for the general election.

Therefore, if an election costs around £90mil due to administration and postage costs, then introducing AV will cost about an extra £1.3m depending on the level of involvement of London constituencies. As far as time goes it would appear that the transfer of votes could be calculated to take no more than three hours extra, so a far cry from the "days" some wish to claim, and within the timeframe that long FPTP counts would be completed by.

Vote counting cost difference to No 2 AV estimate: -£128.7m

Next, the cost of voter education. As above the same rules apply to the Electoral Commission on education for elections. £7.5m max. The idea that the country could spend £26m extra on voter education is impossible under current law, as it would be a cost of £5.2m per year to achieve that, and we already know that the maximum that can be improved on is £2m a year! At worst the cost of education for voters (which if it occurs, would clearly be necessary to ensure people feel informed about their elections!) would be £8m.

Of course realistically we're more likely looking at only £1m-2m in one year, but I'm trying to paint a worse case scenario here, within reason and current law.

Voting education cost difference to No 2 AV estimate: -£18m

So in total the amount that No 2 AV seem to have over-estimated their possibilities is to the tune of £180m (£190m due to their habit of rounding up).

It'd be nice if the No camp could provide equally thought out costings to prove their side (though it seems evident that it would be impossible), but even where I have asked those like Charlotte Vere and other prominent supporters and campaigners for the No camp they have declined to answer my requests.



[1] Returning officers expenses accounts for 2009-10:
(2009's european elections, more up to date than the estimates based on 2005 election)

[2] Referendum held on same day as other election is cheaper:

[3] The law for electoral commission:

[4] Statutory instrument capping spending at £7.5m :

[5] Electoral commission annual report 2009-2010:

[6] Electoral commission annual report 2005-2006:

[7] Electoral commission annual report 2006-2007:

[8] Factcheck The AV campaign gets dirty:

[9] Bristol north west:

[10] Postal votes numbers for Bristol:

[11] Cost of running an election in a constituency:

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Conflict of interest for the Electoral Reform Society?

It has come to light that the main funder of the "Yes" campaign, the Electoral Reform Society, is also the main stakeholder in a company, the Electoral Reform Services Limited (ERSL).

The Spectator, a heavily Tory friendly magazine that has featured articles from the head of the No2AV campaign Matthew Elliott, claims that this is proof of a conflict of interest. I have to disagree.

Take a look at this quote, perfectly formed from Wikipedia: "A conflict of interest can only exist if a person or testimony is entrusted with some impartiality;"

So for a start it is pretty much impossible for the ERS to be in conflict of interest here. They're political, and they're wanting reform. There is no impartiality assumed upon their being (especially as members are actually key parts of the Yes campaign), and no impartiality is required to be a donor of the Yes campaign.

But even ignoring this I believe there are three different ways it can be described that it is not a conflict of interest for the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) to be donating to the Yes campaign any more than it is for the Tories (who today donated £500k to the No campaign) to donate to the No campaign.

1) The ERS is not the ERSL.

Sure, the ERS is a stakeholder (the main one in fact) in ERSL, perhaps even controlling in that fact...who knows how the inner machinations work? But it is the political body, the ERS, that is funding the campaign for a Yes vote. The ERS derives dividends from it's stakeholder position whether it supports the Yes campaign or not, what it does with that money to support it's own stated aims is up to the ERS.

Given the ERS is a political organisation rather than a business there is no benefit that they can gain other than to further their own aims. To claim this is a conflict of interest is to accept that ANYONE donating to EITHER campaign is a conflict of interest, as they ultimately want their respective side to win.

It might be a slightly different picture (but still not a conflict of interest) if it was the ERSL that was directly using it's own profits to fund the Yes campaign.

2) There is no immediate benefit to ERSL by the referendum taking place

There is no proof that additional services would be required by the ERSL. There is a claim that the referendum for AV will be administered by ERSL, however I am unable to find any proof of that (I welcome any confirmation either way), but even this involvement is not a conflict of interest. The fact that the ERSL could be administering the referendum doesn't mean that it benefits by ERS contributing to the Yes campaign.

A separate body, I would imagine the Electoral Commission, will be responsible for awarding contracts through their own process, so donations to the Yes campaign are not going to increase their chances of being picked by this separate independent body.

3) There is no guarantee of future benefit to ERSL conferred by the change to an AV voting system

There are two things that the ERSL cannot guarantee. 1) It cannot guarantee that it will be used for general elections in the future, the Electoral Commission no doubt decides this. My understanding is that it currently does not provide services for General Elections (corrections are welcome). 2) It cannot guarantee that if AV were to take place that it would generate a greater profit in the chance that it would be chosen to administer the General Election than if it were still under FPTP.

Essentially, for the ERSL to be in conflict of interest here it would have to be providing funding in such a way that it could improve it's chances of increased commercial use. Given that in the first case their chance remains the same for gaining any contracts regardless of whether their dividend money is going to the Yes campaign or not, and that the second chance is a decision that would need to be made by the same independent body without ERSL involvement on using different and more expensive administration methods, there is no reasonable claim to be made here that the ERSL are in a conflict of interest situation.


If we are to get ourselves in to a mock frenzy over this issue then we would have to severely look at all funding models for political campaigns in the future. Is it appropriate that the Tories, who will perhaps see that their chances of a not-to-distant majority in the House of Commons relies on the retention of the First Past the Post system should donate to the No campaign to help them secure that? Should individual donors be able to contribute to either side when they stand to be rewarded, based on their local area, with a result that is more likely to be in their favour?

It is not a conflict of interest for people to fund campaigns in to what they believe in, and it's certainly not a conflict of interest for money to be used that has been derived from an organisation in the same "field" or forum whereby decisions are being made. And even if it were the ERSL funding rather than the ERS (if we perhaps combine them as a single unit), the ERSL cannot guarantee by any of it's actions that by increasing the chances of a Yes victory through it's funding that it will benefit in any way from that choice.

A storm in a teacup, and so if you're reading this congratulations as I'm not going to be giving this link out, as I don't wish to give extra fuel to the flames of such a ridiculous argument.

Those advantages of AV, again.

With the referendum we are being offered an improvement over the current system on 5 levels, by moving to AV from FPTP. 5 key areas where AV is fairer than FPTP if you will...

1) Inclusiveness

In 2010 25% of people voted in such a way that their votes meant less to the over-all result. They are everyone that voted for a 3rd or worse placed candidate in their constituency. By voting that way they made a choice that made so little difference that they might as well have stayed home. It wouldn't have changed the winner, it wouldn't have changed the majority the winner had. Yet if they *had* voted tacitically (essentially making an AV result, without the rounds of AV) their vote would have made a difference, either increasing or decreasing the winner's majority to a more accurate show of like/dislike on policy areas, or could have changed the winner completely.

AV stops this unequal practice of people's votes being worth less than others (unless the voter chooses to make it so), by removing the last placed candidate and simulating another FPTP election as if that candidate hadn't stood, etc, etc until a winner is found.

2) Transparency

Along with the above comes transparency. We're ultimately diverse beings with diverse opinions. I personally appreciate Labour's approach to funding of public services, but I dislike their authoritarian streak. A Labour government tempered with a liberal edge would be my perfect party or coalition of government. But I can currently only vote for Labour or vote for Lib Dem. If I make the wrong choice, along with many other people in the constituency splitting their "left wing liberal" vote, then a Tory could win despite the opinions of people not fitting that bill.

AV enables us to say what we really feel, it's not tactical it's just honest. And furthermore it gives us and the parties much more information about the type of policies the constituency really wants, and better informs governance as a result.

3) Honesty

And this transparency can only be achieved because AV enables a much greater level of honesty. Sure, there are situations where tactical voting can exist, though it is much less rational or possible under AV than it is under FPTP. The vast majority of seats will see people simply being able to state their true preferences, to say who they really want.

Currently people might be forced (or feel forced) to vote negatively under FPTP, not through an honest wish for that candidate to win, but to stop someone else. AV ensures that your first vote need NEVER be a tactical one, and always an honest choice on who you want to represent you.

4) Representativeness

And as such AV is clearly more representative. By running elections in such a way that we ask the question "What if the election under FPTP had been run only with the most popular candidates?" As such we whittle the list down, keeping the most popular candidates in, and eventually selecting the most popular of them.

Now representativeness can be measured in other ways, you can also claim there may be a more representative result available than under AV, but the fact remains that the result under AV will be a more knowingly representative one than under FPTP...even if the same candidate wins that would have under FPTP, we know exactly how much more they're supported by people than first appeared, or how much less.

5) Choice

All of the above are available as improvements because the choice for voters is moved to being an active and free participant to whatever level they wish. If they want to still put a single "X" down under AV, they can. If they want to preference everyone, they can. FPTP drains this up front choice from voters, making them decide between honesty and tactics, only informing them of how "equal" their participation is after the result, not guaranteeing it from the beginning to whatever level they wish it to be the case.

There are, of course, weaknesses of AV too...but they're not disadvantages compared to FPTP. It isn't proportional (neither is FPTP), it could lead to coalitions (so could FPTP, as in 2010), it could lead to unfair majorities (as could FPTP). It also doesn't necessarily mean MPs get over 50% of the vote as some claim, though the amount of the vote the MP does get is almost certain to be more than they would get under FPTP.

Other supposed weaknesses such as the time AV takes to count have been debunked, the cost implication is minimal (and such small prices should never come in the way of voter's having a fairer voice), and there is no reasonable way to claim that AV counts some people's opinion more than others. It's also not going to return Lib Dems to power forever more, not unless FPTP was going to do it anyway, in which case it would be the democratic will of the people.

If you're honestly stating that FPTP is better than I'm afraid I don't believe you. I think that either you have some underlying vested interest you think that FPTP will protect, such as an MP without a mandate, or you have failed to understand the realities of AV as a system and the inherent weaknesses in FPTP that can lead to the same results that you fear from AV. I cannot accept the plethora of excuses such as "AV encourages negative voting" when we exist under a system that already perpetrates all of these problems only more so.

If you are holding out for PR, however, then I think you're being irrational by voting No...the reasons above show why AV is demonstrably a fairer system on the voter than FPTP but you would choose to stick with the less fair system with NO guarantee we'll ever get PR. You are also unlikely to be viewing the bigger picture of wider constitutional reform.

PR for the House of Commons would be great...but it's not the only positive end game. If the House of Lords reform that should take place in the next few years (or get started) was to do so with PR in mind, then we would have two chambers to discuss the laws of this that is based on local representation, and one that is based on national political opinion...balancing each other's weaknesses out. It's somewhat short sighted to believe that if we are not getting PR for the House of Commons now, that a representative way of having our views on law won't be possible in the very near future.

I wish that there could be more honesty in this debate, on a referendum where it is clear that people's partisan fears about which party it might help most, and ideology to pursue only the "best" system in their eyes, is overcoming rational and reasoned thought. I only hope that come May 5th we will have more people turning out that are able to see through such selfish and illogical views and towards a more objective one.


Given people around me start to start families, I'm starting to see a key similarity between those that are saying they're voting "No" in the AV referendum because they want PR, and 2-3 year olds.

No doubt if you know of someone with a young child, or maybe if you've watched any of those "I need parenting help" TV programs, you'll have knowledge of the same mind-numbing lack of logic that is perhaps excusable in kids under the age of 5, but not so much for adults of voting age.

"Would you like some ice cream?"
"NO. I want chocolate cake"
"Well...we don't have chocolate cake, how about we get some chocolate cake another time?"
"I want it now"
"So you don't want ice cream?"

It's not a specific example I've seen, but in the vein of many of the examples you'll find out there. And it is, without pulling any punches, childish and narrow-minded.

With the referendum we are being offered an improvement over the current system on 5 levels.

1) Inclusiveness

In 2010 25% of people voted in such a way that their votes meant less to the over-all result. They are everyone that voted for a 3rd or worse placed candidate in their constituency. By voting that way they made a choice that made so little difference that they might as well have stayed home. It wouldn't have changed the winner, it wouldn't have changed the majority the winner had. Yet if they *had* voted tacitically (essentially making an AV result, without the rounds of AV) their vote would have made a difference, either increasing or decreasing the winner's majority to a more accurate show of like/dislike on policy areas, or could have changed the winner completely.

AV stops this unequal practice of people's votes being worth less than others (unless the voter chooses to make it so), by removing the last placed candidate and simulating another FPTP election as if that candidate hadn't stood, etc, etc until a winner is found.

2) Transparency

Along with the above comes transparency. We're ultimately diverse beings with diverse opinions. I personally appreciate Labour's approach to funding of public services, but I dislike their authoritarian streak. A Labour government tempered with a liberal edge would be my perfect party or coalition of government. But I can currently only vote for Labour or vote for Lib Dem. If I make the wrong choice, along with many other people in the constituency splitting their "left wing liberal" vote, then a Tory could win despite the opinions of people not fitting that bill.

AV enables us to say what we really feel, it's not tactical it's just honest. And furthermore it gives us and the parties much more information about the type of policies the constituency really wants, and better informs governance as a result.

3) Honesty

And this transparency can only be achieved because AV enables a much greater level of honesty. Sure, there are situations where tactical voting can exist, though it is much less rational or possible under AV than it is under FPTP. The vast majority of seats will see people simply being able to state their true preferences, to say who they really want.

Currently people might be forced (or feel forced) to vote negatively under FPTP, not through an honest wish for that candidate to win, but to stop someone else. AV ensures that your first vote need NEVER be a tactical one, and always an honest choice on who you want to represent you.

4) Representativeness

And as such AV is clearly more representative. By running elections in such a way that we ask the question "What if the election under FPTP had been run only with the most popular candidates?" As such we whittle the list down, keeping the most popular candidates in, and eventually selecting the most popular of them.

Now representativeness can be measured in other ways, you can also claim there may be a more representative result available than under AV, but the fact remains that the result under AV will be a more knowingly representative one than under FPTP...even if the same candidate wins that would have under FPTP, we know exactly how much more they're supported by people than first appeared, or how much less.

5) Choice

All of the above are available as improvements because the choice for voters is moved to being an active and free participant to whatever level they wish. If they want to still put a single "X" down under AV, they can. If they want to preference everyone, they can. FPTP drains this up front choice from voters, making them decide between honesty and tactics, only informing them of how "equal" their participation is after the result, not guaranteeing it from the beginning to whatever level they wish it to be the case.

These above are not opinions, the are logical facts. If you wish to ignore them then that's your choice, but you are acting the same as that immature and illogical child. The only difference is you don't have the excuse to not know better.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The problem with FPTP

It's all well and good focusing on all the good things AV has to offer, representative local politics, constituency link, more equality of people's voices...but this is also about why we should move from the current system.

FPTP has three main flaws that AV does not share (we all accept AV has flaws, though in general it's flaws are less severe versions than under FPTP.

1) FPTP discourages diversity/encourages unknown results

FPTP works great when only two people are standing. Add more voices in and it gets a whole lot harder to work out as fair. The more candidates that stand under FPTP with some kind of support, the more chaotic the election gets. As votes split further and further the actual number of votes needed to win the seat plummet. It's dangerous in one direction, those that gamble and get the support can easily end up getting elected on only a quarter of the vote if there are enough candidates with support standing.

But also, it means that if you are concerned as a candidate about splitting the vote you may not want to stand. Look at what happened in Oldham and East Saddleworth. Now granted the Tories ran a candidate to placate the local party, but they wished actually to not run at all to give the Lib Dems a better chance. They KNEW that under FPTP fielding a candidate would actually hamper the chances of beating their enemy.

When you have a system that says a winner can be crowned because of how low the threshold is taken, or because two parties are too similar and will gift a common enemy of the two a win, then it is time to move to a system that doesn't make such fatal democratic mistakes.

2) FPTP means unequal votes

Around 25% of the electorate in 2010 voted for a candidate that came 3rd or lower. They might as well have stayed home, it would have made no difference to the final 1st and 2nd place results. However, if they hadn't have "stayed home" and instead voted for the 2nd or 1st place candidate then suddenly their voice would have been more influential.

Under FPTP if you vote for a candidate that placed lower than 2nd then your voice was less instrumental in the result than those that voted 1st or 2nd. If, under AV, we whittle out all the unpopular candidates and end up with a final two, the only equal way to deal with people's opinion is to give them all an opportunity to decide which of those already popular final two are their favourite...equal voices and equal votes.

When your voting system is saying that if you are knowingly voting for someone that is not likely going to be in the top two that you better change your vote, or stay at home, something is wrong.

3) FPTP favours large unified minorities over more "picky" majorities.

Similar to point 1 above, FPTP has the effect of meaning constituencies with a strong but minority voice are more likely to win than those voices that generally agree with each other but find different vehicles of representation. Whether it is Labour and the Left Wing of Lib Dems, or Tories and the Right wing of Lib Dems, or Tories and UKIP, etc...if these local splits happen then the winner is not the popular choice, it's not representative of local views. FPTP allows strong minorities to steal elections, something completely obliterated by the introduction of the AV system.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What is FPTP?

FPTP is turning up at the butchers wanting steak, but being refused service because it's sold out.

FPTP is wanting to watch the Kings Speech at the cinema, but being turned away because the screening is full

FPTP is going for a curry, even though it means the majority of your group go home early

FPTP is not having a single thing you can use as a knife in the kitchen when you need to slice some things.

FPTP is not being able to find your Kings of Leon CD in the car, so having to sit in silence.

FPTP is wanting a Cobra when you get to the bar, but having to not drink anything because it is sold out.

FPTP is your long term life partner dying, but finding another love to keep you company.

FPTP is wanting to use the treadmills at the gym, but turning around and going home because you don't know when they'll become free

FPTP is your team being 1-0 down in the 90th, and your manager telling the team to give up because only a win is worth it.

FPTP is finding your favourite clubbing top hasn't been washed, not having a reasonable going out top otherwise, and so having to call your night out off

In basic terms, FPTP is having one choice, and if that choice isn't valid enough then you have to sit on the sidelines without your full opinion being heard. Isn't that pretty unfair?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

A fair result

Let's look forward to a potential election in 2015.

In your constituency the result is counted and it ends as thus..

Tories 51%
Labour 40%
Lib Dems 9%

Happy with this result? Over half have voted for the Tory candidate, and he's elected. Good stuff? Looking at it as a FPTP result, it's clear it's a fair win for the Tory MP.

If this is the case, then how does the presence of other rounds before it, should it also be the AV result, make any difference? What if the round before the final round above was...

Tories 45%
Labour 40%
Lib Dems 8%

And how about the round before this it looked like this?

Tories 39%
Labour 40%
Lib Dems 8%
Independent 6%

Are we honestly so fickle that we would accept the result at the top of the page if it were FPTP, where voters have decided to vote Tory in the absence of their own candidate, but won't accept the same result achieved through a different system?

EDIT: I'm just going to elaborate on my thinking, after a conversation with @SohoPolitico on twitter.

The reason I bring this example up is it's important to understand that preferences that people place explicitly under AV are the same preferences that they decide to use implicitly during FPTP.

Take the top result on this page between three candidates. If it were FPTP it would be accepted as a Tory win by everyone, perhaps as a clear mandate. The reality would be that the vote is made up by people that have used their own second and third preference choices as though it were a first preference because they don't want Labour to win.

The result that would take place under FPTP would not be transparent, we wouldn't know if the Tories had a real majority, or if the vote was more about not wanting Labour while *really* wanting someone else. But the one universal truth between both that result as FPTP, and AV, is the same voter in both scenario's feels strongly about voting for someone other than Labour and has every right to express that preference.

As soon as you understand that how people feel doesn't change between the two results, regardless of how the result is should also understand that comparing people's preference level to each other is irrelevant. We don't measure inter-personal preferencing under FPTP, it's implicit, but just because it's out in the open doesn't mean it's relevant to "who is more popular" either. Preferences only exist to allow the system to work.

If the system was Run-Off, where there is a re-vote between rounds, we wouldn't use preferences...we wouldn't need to. The system is functionally identical except for this fact...preferences therefore only exist to allow vote counters to carry out each round without reapplying for people's opinion.

So with preferences being irrelevant to the validity of the "popularity" of the result, it just comes down to that result. If you accept the top result on this page is a victory for the Tories then you also accept that by adding more people in to the mix the Tory hasn't got less popular in a head to head with Labour.

The only thing that has changed as you go down the "rounds" is that people are splitting their vote...that the Left leaning people in the constituency are all huddled around Labour while an increase in right wing candidates spoils the vote for the Tories.

This is why AV is a fairer system, we can see where the vote is being split, we can rectify it by ensuring that we understand who the most popular person is in a final head-to-head (or head-to-heads), with an accurate level of information as to the specific type of policies that the winner should be taking in to consideration if they are to be truly representative of their constituency.

AV... more representative of overall views
AV... more transparent for telling the core priorities of electorate
AV... Disallows the logistical act of vote splitting to enable an unpopular candidate to win.

This is why it is a no brainer to vote to change to AV this May.

What is AV?

AV is turning up at the butchers wanting steak, finding it's sold out but still being able to buy chicken instead.

AV is wanting to watch the Kings Speech at the cinema, but still being able to see Black Swan when the screening is sold out.

AV is wanting to go for a curry, but happily getting a chinese instead because your housemates don't like spicy food.

Av is at least having spoons when what you need is a knife.

AV is not being able to find your Kings of Leon CD in the car, but having Mumford and Sons ready to play

AV is wanting a Cobra when you get to the bar, but buying a Corona when the Cobra is sold out.

Av is your long term life partner dying, but finding another love to keep you company.

Av is wanting to use the treadmills at the gym, but using the rowing machine as all the treadmills are in use.

AV is your team being 1-0 down in the 90th, and being happy when they score an equaliser just before the whistle.

Av is finding your favourite clubbing top hasn't been washed, but having a back-up for just such an occurrence.

In basic terms, AV is still being allowed to have a choice out of the remaining options available, and for your valid opinion to be heard. Isn't that a nice thing to be able to have?

AV Game theory

One of the less provable aspects of this debate between AV or FPTP is this:

Which result will better enable people to call for further reform?

To me it's a redundant question, but let's look at some realities we do know.

1) The No campaign is mainly organised by Tories and Labour peeps that actually don't want to move away from FPTP. There are those involved that are honestly of the belief that a system that means something like 25% of the electorate could stay at home without affecting the 1-2 placings of every constituency, is better than one that gives everyone a more equal voice. There are also a certain amount of those who believe that accepting a small change will put a barrier up against bigger change.

2) The Yes campaign is mainly made up of Lib Dems and Labour peeps that see there is a democratic deficit in this country that needs resolving somehow (though, I think it's fair to say both sides tend to disagree on just how that should be solved)

3) Referendums kill other referendums. In the 70s we had a referendum on the EU (which was won as a Yes vote). Labour recently faced calls for a repeat of this referendum under different times. In the 70s a major push was made by the Tories to go in to the EU for economic reasons, in the 00s the popular rhetoric was one that we had "had enough". As such Labour basically said there would be no referendum because it hadn't been long enough since the last one. Political posturing based on knowing the result most likely wouldn't have gone their way. (I support being in the EU, for those who care).

So what does this all mean? First, if you vote no please don't pretend that you're not giving a victory to those that want to ultimately keep FPTP. If you vote yes, don't pretend that there aren't No's that don't want reform..or that you're voting for further reform. You're voting for AV, that is all.

Also, the fact this referendum is here means that another referendum will not come about without a party political wish for there to be one, regardless of the result.

But then how the whole "further referendum in the future" thing goes is anyone's guess. If the public truly make a stink about reform...protests, mass petition/engagement with politicians...then maybe it'll happen sooner as whichever party in power thinks they can gain popularity off of it. This will happen regardless of whether we vote yes or no, the power is in our hands at any time to collectively try and force this.

The only other situation is that someone like the Lib Dems does actually get the main stay of power (at least the reverse of the current coalition), with party policy that they pursue STV and as such are mandated by their members to put a referendum on the table as a party of government. Of course, I think we all understand how unlikely this is!

So given this, how should we vote? Obviously it depends how you feel, AV or FPTP being better (despite it being demonstrably evident that AV is an improved and fairer system than FPTP), but Game theory for me says this...

1) The referendum is Yes, and we get further reform referendum after = PR people have what they want
2) The referendum is Yes, and we don't get another referendum any time soon = No proportional reform, but a better system than we had for the time being
3) The referendum is No, and we get a further reform referendum after = PR people have what they want...though the fall back if they lose again is still FPTP
4 The referendum is No, and we don't get another referendum any time soon = No proportional reform, and stuck with the same unrepresentative system.

Total it up, it's clear that you're more likely to get a positive result, not only now but if everything goes wrong in a future referendum, if you vote for AV now. A future referendum is not dependant on how this referendum goes, but how much we want it regardless of the result...the question now is what do we want the default position to be should that reform not come, or should that future reform fail to get supported by the public?

50% or not 50%?

One of the most (pathetically) controversial points of the AV argument is this claim that 50% of the vote must be attained by the winning candidate. It is entirely a pedantic point, but let's look at it.

First, how does a "vote" count currently under FPTP? For your vote to be counted it must be cast, and valid. If you spoil your ballot, your vote is not counted.

Fast forward to AV. If everyone casts enough preferences that no-one "runs out" of preferences (that is that their vote is no longer transferred to another candidate) it's very clear that the winner will have over 50% of the vote. Even where preferences run out it is likely that votes will go over that 50% mark of all votes cast, preferences counted or not.

However there are situations whereby someone may well win on 50%, but not of all votes cast. Is it valid to still say they are elected on 50% of the vote?

As I said at the top, this is pathetically pedantic when coming from either side, but yes, it is still valid to claim that.

Just as under FPTP whereby if you do not vote for one of the candidates but you submit a ballot you are spoiling your ballot, if you end up running out of preferences you too are spoiling your ballot under AV. This is, of course, an active choice on your part. You are saying "I don't endorse any of these candidates, I'm not taking part in endorsing the eventual result".

As such, with these votes becoming spoiled...again, just like under FPTP...they don't get "counted" in the same sense. Recorded, of course, they were part of the process...but for the result they do not count, therefore the winner can still attain 50% of the vote..the valid vote..same as under FPTP.

In the interest of honesty, this should also mean that it's clear that there may be scenarios in AV whereby the total number of votes that someone wins on under AV does not change compared to if the vote was held under FPTP...the difference is that we know for sure under AV that the person truly held the greatest plurality, rather than just assuming it without taking in to account everyone's opinion.

So there you go, a particularly boring part of the whole discussion, highlighting how pedantic and silly it is to get in to arguments over it. "50% of the vote" is a valid phrase, at least it is if you don't go around questioning whether or not your MP currently *really* got their 30-40% of the vote under FPTP.

Friday, 18 February 2011

"on May 5th they want their second preference to come first."

"And, as so often happens in elections using the AV system… …on May 5th they want their second preference to come first."

Cameron's witty quip at the end of his press conference. But, does it really prove the lack of integrity of AV supporters, or why the system is a good one?

When we go to the ballot in May we only have two options, Yes or No to the question of "Should we change to AV?"

Now this is a FPTP election, we don't know anyone's preferences or reasons, we just have the options on the table. If AV wins it's because more people want AV than want our current FPTP system.

If this same type of situation happened in a constituency for the General Election, like happens every election, do we look back at those who are voting for Labour, Tories or Lib Dems and say that their vote doesn't count because we believe they'd rather support the Greens or BNP?

Of course not, because making crass assumptions about people's wishes is childish.

But what if AV really is our second preference? If the question was "Which system shall we use: FPTP, AV or STV?"

If that was held under an AV vote (for irony!) and it was clear that most Labour and Tory supporters didn't want STV, STV would be eliminated first as having only a small percentage of the votes. The question then returns to "AV or FPTP?", just like this referendum question we have now.

Second choice or not, if AV wins in May it's because it's preferred to FPTP, and thus more popular than FPTP is. That kind of result is the fairest of all. And it's that kind of fair result a "Yes" win in May will ensure up and down the country at the next General Election.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Candidate lists

At the last election there was a constituency (hypothetical) that had the following candidates running, with the following number of votes...

Jeff - 18,000 votes
Billy - 17,000 votes
Ashley -4,000 votes
Jane - 800 votes
Kerry - 200 votes
Tom - 100 votes

Under FPTP Jeff wins. Fair? It must be, if you support FPTP.

Next election the same candidates run again. Every voter votes the same way...except Ashley has pulled out. Instead Ashley's voters decide how they'll vote in Ashley's absence. 2000 decide they won't bother voting at all, 1,600 decide they'll vote for Billy, and 400 decide they'll vote for Jeff.

New vote shares for the next election are...

Jeff - 18,400 votes
Billy - 18,600 votes
Jane - 800 votes
Kerry - 200 votes
Tom - 100 votes

Another FPTP election, but this time Billy wins. Fair? It must be if you support FPTP.

Yet this situation is exactly what AV deals with, except it does it within the same election. Before claiming that it's "unfair" that someone's 2nd or further preference counts as much as your 1st, think about the above scenario. Would you complain about your election being won by someone because another candidate wasn't present? Would you think that Billy's votes aren't as worthy as Jeffs?

Of course not, you'd not bat an eyelid at the situation, and you'd congratulate the winner. Yet this is what AV does to ensure that the most popular of the most popular win each seat.

Edit: Someone on twitter tried to claim that the above results are like "earning £10" whilst the AV method is like stealing £10. It should be clear to those that don't need to abandon logic to parrot a party line...what I've demonstrated above is the exact process AV takes, though over a period of years not hours. If you believe the above FPTP result is fair you lose any right to claim that AV is unfair. It is, possibly unfortunately for you, unavoidable. :) /Edit

For more on why AV is a fairer choice than FPTP, read on.

CCHQ's misleading posters

Misleading. For a start what other countries do or don't do is irrelevant. We are our own country, we make our own decisions, and I think we're proud of that fact. We have a monarchy as head of state despite most other democracies having abandoned that, we drive on the Left despite most countries driving on the right. We don't really compromise on our traditions, unless those traditions have become truly outdated.

Also, FPTP is used in less than half the countries in the world (70 countries use it in at least half of their election for their representative body, out of 203), so don't mistake that big expanse of Green to mean FPTP is used everywhere.

No-one gets more votes counted than anyone else. You could say someone's vote is counted 5 times, but you'd equally have to say that everyone else still in the vote gets their vote counted 5 times too. More here.

This is a false analogy, utterly misrepresentative of reality. If you're going to use a running race to analogise AV, then do it the right way. AV is like having multiple races, where the slowest running fails to qualify. More on this analogy being rubbish

A misrepresentation of how AV really works. "Preferences" only relate to how you rank each candidate against each other, not how you rank them compared to how others rank theirs. At the end of the day if the vote comes down to a Tory versus Lib Dem, and your 5th choice is Lib Dem you are still stating that, when choosing between the Tory and Lib Dem, you want the Lib Dem. This is just as relevant a statement, and completely fair, as mine of prefering the Tory on first preference.

If a FPTP election took place and only a Lib Dem and Tory stood, and people chose to vote the same way as they would in a final round of AV those in the No2AV camp would claim this is entirely fair and why does that change all of a sudden under AV? Answer: It doesn't. Again, read more here, and about how AV is fairer than FPTP here.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

£250 mil? Get real!

Apparently the next tactic on the No2AV list is to try and scare people with numbers. £250mil it'll cost us if we vote YES in May! How will we ever survive as a nation?

Well, quite easily really. £250million is equivalent to about £4 per person, not a huge amount. And that's before we even look in to the figures.

£250 million equates to an £82mil figure to run a referendum (the same cost as running an election, apparently), and another £9mil to educate people on what the options are.

OK, so the referendum will actually cost about £91mil then, not £250mil. More like £1.50 per person to have a say on which voting system we prefer. EDIT: Even this, by the way, is an over-estimate. With a referendum on the same day as local election the costs of venue hire, administration, security, etc are all saved...potentially driving the direct cost down by 50% to nearer £40mil or £50mil.

Where does the other part of the bill come from? Well, first more education at every election sourced from unsourced "experts", of about £26mil. Of course this isn't a referendum cost, but a cost of each election after that...assuming that we spend the same money every year on educating voters on what they're actually voting for (shock horror), and then £130mil on expensive counting machines.

Expensive counting machines? Where is the proof for these devices? Australia has run this system with much greater voter numbers than we ever have to deal with by HAND for around 8 decades! Why are we so special that we need machines to do it for us...again, where is the proof? Despite asking loyal No supporters, and official No campaign bods, we as yet have no answer to this curious question.

So I'm sorry, but I cannot count this highly presumptive and fantastical £130mil cost that appears to have been inserted in there, though I'll work with the £26mil. That cost works out at 40p per person...over 5 years. less than 10p per person each year to ensure that everyone knows how to vote properly... less than 1p a month!

Gaaaawd, that breaks the bank doesn't it!

Well the way that No2AV would prefer you look at it is the cost in real terms. 5000 police officers that £250mil could pay for! Well, we know now that it's more like £117mil, so maybe more like 2500 police officers. This assumes a police officer is worth around £50k each, which in all fairness isn't going to be far off the mark for one year (including admin, pension, equipment, salary).

But the referendum is a one time thing, so after one year the money for those police officers would be gone again, so not so much "5000 extra police without AV referendum", more "2500 extra police for one year only without AV referendum", yet even that would be disingenuous given how £26mil of that cost is only coming around once every 5 years if we vote Yes. straight away this means we're talking only about 1820 officers for one year only, with the remaining funding spread over 5 years.

What the No campaign should really be saying is that the avoidable cost of us saying "Yes" may be around £26million (due to the fact this referendum is happening and costing us around £90mil whether you say Yes or No), every 5 years, at the devastating cost of being unable to fund 104 extra police officers.

It's a pretty redundant argument in today's economic times. Maybe if NO2AV care so much about what money is being spent on, they should instead fight the cuts of 20% or so that will cost us 10,000 police officers over the next 4 years, rather than spend their money on trying to keep an out-dated, unfit for purpose, system that freezes a significant proportion of the voting public out of having their opinions heard?

Note: all "per person" figures can be roughly related to "per taxpayer" figures by doubling them.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Voting mathematics: 101

A vote. What is it? You can define it one of two ways. It is either the process of performing a vote, or it is the action of your choice being counted. I prefer the terminology in the first case (as do those that tend to describe voting systems... one man, one vote refers to only having to make one trip to the booth, not that they only put one "X" down in general), but it is irrelevant which you prefer in reality; the outcome for both is the same.

Under AV you carry out your vote, by putting as many preferences down as you want. Your vote is carried down the preference list you have stated as your candidates are eliminated. One vote, transferred as necessary.

Or perhaps you look at it like you put multiple votes down against multiple candidates, with only one vote counted per round regardless of which candidate is currently determined to have your support.

Take the following rows of "votes" for several candidates, A, B and C respectively:

|||||||||||||||||||| = 20
|||||||||||||||| = 16
||||||| = 7

You can see here, there's a total of 20 + 16 + 7 votes, or 43 votes.

The lowest candidate is eliminated, the votes stand as such...

|||||||||||||||||||||| = 22
||||||||||||||||||||| = 21

The total votes counted here is, again 43.

So who has had their vote counted more than once? If you follow the simple maths above, you'll see that no-one has had their vote counted more than once, or rather that everyone has had their vote counted more than once. Either analysis can be seen as true

If you feel that a vote is the process of voting, then those 7 votes are "re-counted" for different candidates as a second preference. Mathematically, if they were counted twice then we would have 50 votes on the table, not 43...but we don't, with the elimination of the last candidate the votes they accrued are nullified. The process is this:

A = 20 + 2
B = 16 + 5
C = 7 - 7

However if you feel that votes are choices you cast, then every round your vote is cast once more. The original votes of 20, 16 and 7 are counted, and then the second set of votes, 22 and 21 are counted. Two sets of 43, every single voter having their vote counted equally to everyone else in the process.

If someone had their votes counted more than once, how would it look?

Well round one would look like above, 20, 16 and 7. Round two?

|| = 2
||||| = 5

If you are not counting the votes of those who have not moved their vote, or are having a vote counted for a different candidate, then the election solely comes down to those who transfer. But we can see from above that's not the case. The actual result is that Candidate A wins by 1 vote, yet if we follow basic logic and mathematics, that only those who move their votes are counted again, then candidate B should win, 5 votes to 2. It's impossible for the result to stand as it does where candidate A wins by one vote without accepting that everyone's vote is counted equally, regardless of vote transference.

Those who voted for the most popular two candidates, and therefore don't have to change preferences, aren't forgotten and only counted the once under AV. Either their vote counts still because it is not yet nullified and redistributed, or it is counted equally because every round means each current preference is counted as a new vote for everyone involved.


A moron's view on FPTP being better

We have a grade A, top class idiot working the #no2av ranks at the moment. Find him on Twitter at @DBirkin. He's been pretty consistently irked by me for a while, and decided to delete my comment for being too "childish and insulting", despite being quite toned down by comparison to my remake below.

His comment that I replied to...with comments below each point. I can be as childish and insulting as I want here thankfully! You may need to go to his site to get the context for each numbered point. Though beware, who knows what he'll change to try and save face in the future.

1. Yes people can do that, but they will be disadvataged because most will vote the AV way.

No 2 AV, along with Mr @DBirkin, are all over the place. On Twitter right now they're trying to use the rather measured opinion of one Guardian journalist, who claims AV *might* not be used much more differently to FPTP (with no proof other than a completely different country, that he doesn't even really try to claim is proof), to state most will vote the FPTP way. @DBirkin says opposite. Each day is a delight with the No 2 AV crowd. Will AV be more proportional, or less proportional? Will AV lead to coalitions or will it make stronger majorities? You name an argument and I can guarantee that No 2 AV will manage to argue themselves out of it making any sense!

2. No, quite clearly only the eliminated get to vote again the DB way, i should know, I came up with it.

@DBirkin is a moron that can't understand how his own analogies either don't work, fail to prove his point or actually disprove his point. This is one of those that fails to prove his point as he plays semantic acrobatics.

AV = everyone getting a vote, and that vote being transfered round by round until there's a winner.
DB way = everyone gets a vote, then after each round those that are eliminated get another vote to put against the remaining candidates.

He honestly thinks this proves that AV is a system that is one that counts multiple votes for some while only 1 for others. Like I said, moron.

In AV, you have one vote no matter who you are, it's a single action (a vote) and it's reallocated based on who's in and out. It's counted every round...regardless of if it moves to someone else or not, it's counted every round.

In DB way you may have multiple votes, but every round each vote is counted exactly the same, whether it is a new vote or an old vote. Everyones vote is counted every round.

It's not just the result that is the same, it's the whole method of deciding who's won or not. Quibble semantic bollocks all you like about how many "votes" there are, the fact remains that under AV everyones opinion in each round is taken exactly the same amount of times as anyone else voting.

I mean...I'm amazed I even have to spell this out. It's the reason that despite perhaps being a little insulting to poor old @DBirkin, I feel justified...because he is a cretin and hours worth of otherwise polite reasoning doesn't get these simple and basic concepts in to his head.

3. This is true, FPTP assumes everyone's endorsement is their endorsement. So there is a margin of error there. Now compound this by taking away candidates and asking them to do it again...and again and each round gets worse for accuracy.

Maths failure, as if that's a surprise with "1+0 = 0" @DBirkin. A margin of error goes both ways, it could mean that in each successive round the amount people support the candidate they vote for grows relatively to others that remain voting for their first choice.

The fact is you can't measure it either way, the voting system doesn't want to measure it, to introduce this as an argument is to both undermine the legitimacy of FPTP, and to ignore the potential for making AV more legitimate than FPTP on the issue of having a candidate who's voters care about them more. Simply put it's mathematically unprovable to make the statements @DBirkin makes, but we know he'll go and make them anyway because it suits him to be a misleading shit.

4)More opinions are taken into account..from the same 35% of people, which slants the result more than if you only asked everyone for one opinion.

So it slants the result towards being more representative then, doesn't it. I've analogised the hell out of this point, but if you ask everyone their view you have a simplistic view of what the majority is. In 100% of the cases asking the voters of failed candidates to move their vote to someone still remaining further ensures that the winner is endorsed by the voting population. There is not a single situation under which FPTP can show us more accurately who the popular candidate is without relying on pure chance.

So yes, it slants the result, to make it demonstrably more representative, 100% of the time.

5)Its not perdantic. Just because someone didn't pick one of two candidates from a starting line of 8-12 ish, doesn't mean they don't count as voters.
If the only way to get a high percentage is to eliminate people so they are no longer voters, how does that make it better?

It's an entirely pedantic point to try and claim that 50% in the final round isn't the same as 50% of voters (and vice versa). The reality is that under FPTP if you spoil your ballot your vote isn't counted. It's recorded, but the fact you are saying "I don't want a candidate, this is a protest", or a mistake in some cases, means it's not a vote.

Under AV, you have the opportunity of taking that route if the public opinion goes such a way that you can't be bothered about who's elected, you'd rather have neither. Your preferences are recorded up to that point, but if the final two candidates are people you've not preferenced then you are essentially choosing to spoil your ballot late in the process. At that point your vote doesn't count in the result. You know this, you don't care, otherwise you'd have put down a full preference list.

It's not that you don't count if this happens, it's just that you don't count as part of the electorate (who are people that put a valid vote for a candidate in all rounds up until and including the final round counted, which under FPTP is the only round of course).

Like I say, pedantic, but it just generally annoys me that we're in a situation where we can say an MP got over 50% of the votes under FPTP, but this is based on data that doesn't include spoiled ballots. It's hypocrisy to talk about a term but change the definition of it halfway to suit your argument.

6)I agree, PR is not involved here, though 1/4 is not good odds and it would be niave to suggest different electoral systems can not favour PR without being PR.

@DBirkin here doing the fantastical and trying to claim that there is "form" in electoral systems where boundaries, seats, candidates and political opinion all change, that mean we can put "odds" on a future result being a certain way!

Now, if we were 3 months from an election, with opinion polls, especially regionals, I'd agree with him. We could confidently stand there and talk about we'd have the information.

How he uses odds is moronic though. It is akin to saying that we know Manchester United will win the premiership next season (or at least that they are favourites) based on this seasons results despite them going on to lose their number 1 and 2 goalkeepers, cutting back their training schedule, and sack their manager...all things that we both a) wouldn't know was coming and b) would render previous form factors irrelevant and useless.

7) Obviously you cannot prove something which hasn't happened yet, so you're asking the impossible. However we can predict. Any system which is said to encourage more people to stand for election will from time to time elect those people. (otherwise they wouldn't stand). In which case the big two's MP count goes down...coalitions.

@DBirkin claims that AV would lead to more coalitions, I explain the multitude of factors that would make that likely or not...factors we don't know...and this is his response? And he doesn't skip a beat before essentially accepting he's absolutely wrong? Oh, wait, he's weaseling too with his absolutely fundamental lack of mathematical skills.

More candidates = more variety of results all the time? Really? Funny, you see under FPTP I can see that being a possibility. The greatly reduced threshold for winning that happens every time a credible candidate comes along and splits the's very feasible for greater varieties of MPs to be elected at low (non-existent in representative terms) mandates.

With AV those extra candidates don't mean anything unless they're one of the 2 or 3 most popular. To clarify... AV means that you can have many many more candidates involved, but no matter how many you add the 2 or 3 most popular will never be under threat of losing their rightful seat.

8)I am not saying all policies are enacted under fptp, but atleast you know their rough policies. Under AV you will not even know that.

@DBirkin swerves the point masterfully! The point was that a claim was made that AV would mean politicians dilute their policies. Aside from this argument being absolutely moronic in a democratic view (Yes, politicians will offer things that the public wants them to do..shock horror!), it is also completely applicable to FPTP (Tories saying they had no plans for VAT?).

But then we swerve in to this. AV we won't know policies? Well again, Tories tried to make out they wouldn't increase VAT, the Lib Dems tried to make out they would not raise tuition fees, god knows Labour must have made some claim it wouldn't keep (like not introducing tuition fees, giving us a referendum on the voting system...etc..etc).

The system currently has politicians lying left right and center, as they only need to convince a small percentage of swing voters to move their vote, and after that it doesn't really matter any more. Under AV the numbers you need to convince to support you, across preferences, mean there will be much greater pressure to follow up what they claim. There is also no proof whatsoever that AV would lead to politicians all coming out with the same/similar manifestos.


Does this look like I'm "running out of arguments"? Of course not. I may be crass at times, insulting, maybe childish...but perhaps that's because I feel I need to self-sabotage myself given how damn clear the arguments against dross like the above is, and it doesn't feel like a fair fight otherwise?

AV doesn't make a difference?

An astounding argument against AV is that it "doesn't make a difference" to the result of FPTP. I say astounding because logically it begs the question that, if it is *at worst* the same as FPTP, then why not move to it for the potential benefits?

It's like I have a car, does about 30 miles to the gallon if being economical, no airbag. If I want to look for another car, do I discount all the other cars that have better security, better safety, because at worst (being uneconomical) it also does 30 miles to the gallon, and because I don't expect to crash so the inclusion of an airbag doesn't make a difference to me right now?

Of course it doesn't. Moving to a system where it's worst outcome is the best outcome of the old system means that the possibility is there for the wishes of those taking part

If those taking part wish to perform like it were FPTP, fine, that's their choice. It'll also be an available option, one I believe that'll be taken by a significant number of voters, to do more than FPTP can offer in terms of allowing their voice to be heard.

Stating that AV might not make much of a difference than FPTP is irrelevant, it's what it allows in terms of further difference that matters...whether voters choose to use that extra influence or not is their choice, and a choice that they should be able to make on their own terms, not solely on the terms of people that prefer that less economical and less safe car.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Calder Valley, tactical voting hotspot

Calder Valley is an interesting place, election wise. A fair margin under FPTP keeps the Tories ahead, some 6-7k votes ahead. But still, this is only 40% of the total vote.

Under FPTP there is some tactical voting that can go on. If Labour wanted to push the "two horse race" angle, and the Lib Dems followed, Labour could win in Calder Valley...not necessarily too likely though. Lib Dems locally would almost have to give up.

Under AV though there is an opportunity for a simple tactical vote, though not perhaps how you'd expect.

Due to the percentages, 39.39%, 26.97% and 25.18% for Tories, Labour and Lib Dems in that order, AV can open things up to electoral tactics.

If people were honest then you could probably expect that one of two things would happen. Either the Lib Dem vote would heavily sway to Labour, in which case Labour may well just about sneak a victory, or the vote would split and go to both Tories and which case Tories would still win.

The Tories may well think...I'd hate for Labour to win here, I want our MP to know we prefer someone 930 voters for the Tories go and back the Lib Dems, putting the Lib Dems ahead of Labour now by 1 vote. Suddenly Labour are the third party. They're not going to give their votes to the Tories, only to the Lib Dems (and who knows, maybe not even the Lib Dems any more!).

The result? Again, either the Tories win...or this time the Lib Dems might sneak a victory. Labour would be robbed of their possible slight win because the Tories manufactured the Lib Dems to come second.

But this situation is extremely rare. It requires a) for the difference between the first and second placed candidate to be less than half the total vote of the third placed candidate in the penultimate round (if we follow voter polling on how often they'd transfer), b) the Tories and Labour to be first and second, mainly because they don't tend to try and get one another to win instead of the Lib Dems (though this may change) and c) requires the change of place between second and third place to be achieved through a small percentage (a realistic number) of tactical votes...perhaps around 1000-2000 for a typical constituency.

AV increasing majorities now too?

This is touching on my previous discussion about analysis that claims Labour would have won a greater majority in 2005, and is a hard thing to write about on Twitter alone! If you're in a rush, read the next paragraph, if not then read past it. :)

tl;dr? AV means each constituency MP is representative, and where a government gets a greater majority, it is because local people have had a chance to say they don't want an opposition MP's policies before the governments. Simply put, AV ensures a more accurate picture of the policies we want than FPTP, it's less that AV would have increased the majorities, more than FPTP decreased them!

There is a concern out there that AV might entrench government majorities (which, ironically, is the complete opposite of those that claim that AV will cause coalitions...couldn't make it up). My stance remains the same regardless of people talking about greater majorities or more coalitions... AV as a system alone isn't the cause of that, it's to do with real public opinion and how it's spread nationally.

But let's just imagine we are in that 2005 scenario, or 1997 (as opposed to 1992 were it'd reduce the majority, or 1983 where it'd be more proportional but exactly the same majority!). Is it unfair? Is it wrong?

I don't think so. We are working under AV or FPTP in single member constituencies. We make our government not through national public opinion, but by representation by MPs. When our parliament is formed, each MP represents the collective opinion of their local area. Then, based on what party the MPs are a member to, we make our government.

It's important we understand, while working under single member constituencies we CANNOT form a government that is assured to be proportional. All we can do is ensure that each 1/650th (or less if boundary changes come in) is representative of our views locally.

FPTP doesn't ensure this happens. It doesn't mean FPTP is unrepresentative, just that in some cases we can't be sure, in some cases it's clear it's most likely not representative of real views. When AV is claimed to increase majorities over FPTP it is because AV is allowing the local population, who's vote must be fairly split for this to happen, to say that they would prefer the policies of the government over that of the opposition.

Whereas under FPTP an opposition MP may get a seat while over 50% of the voters oppose their policies, creating a fake extra opposition MP, under AV those same voters can rally, and rather than end up being supported by a right winger that doesn't represent their generally left wing views, or a left winger who doesn't support their generally right wing views, they end up with a candidate actually furthering their wishes for national direction.

This is why, whether AV returns a more hung parliament, or a greater majority (as it can do both, remember!), in both cases it is more representative of the nations actual desires for policy on a constituency by constituency basis, and so returns a more representative parliament, and a more representative ratio of government to opposition.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

That AV weighting thing again...

Some people get entirely confused over preferences, to the degree they think people's second preferences are counting more than other people's first preferences. Please think about how this system really works.

AV isn't about totalling up everyone's opinion of preference cumulatively, it's about totalling up peoples absolute votes...their expressions of endorsement of a candidate.

When we go into each round of voting we are essentially re-running the election, asking everyone to keep their results the same where their candidate is still running, and for everyone else to re-allocate their vote to someone still in the running where their candidate has been eliminated. Their preference order doesn't really come in to it other than as a factor of allowing the system to run automatically round by round.

If the exact same system was used but non-instantaneously (the system,Run Off or Exhaustive voting, used by the Tories to elect their leader, and the House of Commons to elect their Speaker), where there is a gap and a re-vote between each round, no-one would call the vote cast a'd simply be a vote, counted equally with all the others cast alongside it.

The question asked, round after round (though instantaneously through the use of a preferential order), is "Which of these candidates is best for the job", where one candidate is removed each time to narrow the field. It's not "Please rate this candidate out of 10, we'll add all the scores up at the end".

You can *try* to weight those votes, the second preferences and beyond, but you'd be wrong, as this person has only one endorsement to carry someone to office...and where it ends up is a statement of only one thing...

"I want this candidate more than I want any of the others still standing".

So when, under AV, someone wins on 55% when they would have come "second" under FPTP with's not that 25% of people voting for them care any less, all 55% will have said they want that person more than anyone else still in the running, beating the other 45% minority. Ask those people in the street and they may explain their choices, but will ultimately reinforce that if the options came down to it again, they would still vote, and endorse, that same candidate over the other available.

To claim that any of that re-allocated vote means less than someone else's is to call in to question the whole validity of FPTP as a system as well. After all, can we ever be sure that a winner on 40% has as much "belief" or "support" behind them as the second place person on 30%?

Or, really, do we understand that a voting system (at least a single member constituency based one) is a binary process...and that it's easy to get confused by the use of "preferences" meaning people care progressively less, when the reality is that the voting system cares not how much you support each preference...only that you do support that preference enough to put a mark down, or not.

Monday, 7 February 2011

AV and 2005

Analysis has previously been carried out on the 2005 election, as to what would have happened under AV. In this case it's suggested that Labour would have increased their majority under AV, despite the controversy over the war.

These analysis' are always risky. For a start they assume that every person would vote exactly the same first preference under AV, something we know isn't the case, even on the most conservative estimates of tactical voting. Secondly they assume preferences based on a leading question.

"If the voting paper had required you to give two votes, in order of preference, which party would you have put as your second preference?"

Thirdly this study is a national study that, despite likely being broken down in to key political areas (North West, South West, London, etc), can't give an accurate appraisal of local views and deviation from the national average.

So on several levels we should be cautious about the study. Realise I'm saying this in relation to the broadness of what information is used, and as such not only could it be over-estimating the benefit Labour would have could also be under-estimating it. My only suggestion here is that it's not a good practice to rely on this data too heavily.

But let's assume this study is bang on.

Is it proof that AV would be less fair?

Arguments can easily go that as it would make parliament less proportional, this is less fair. It's a fine argument, legitimate...but unfortunately not one that has any place in a debate between two systems that simply do not care about proportionality. One year's system that provides a less proportional result could provide a more proportional the's based solely on spread of opinion, not the system.

For example, in 2005 AV would have made (if we believe the study 100%) things less proportional. In 1992 it would have made things more proportional. It's swings and round abouts, based on the *real* popularity of the parties.

The thing with 2005 is that if Labour really would have won a greater majority under AV, it'd be because that's what people wanted.

It would have come down to the fact that there were more constituencies where Lib Dems were placed third than where other parties were placed third, and that Lib Dem voters would tend to feel that (despite the centralised campaign being so vocal about the war) voting for Labour is a better evil than letting the Tories in with their (at the time) heavy anti-immigration and anti-poor agenda.

This comes back to my previous post about what is "fair". Crying about the potential for someone you (as an individual) really dislike getting a better share of the House of Commons under AV...and claiming this is proof of AV's failing, completely ignores the greater will of the nation, and ignores the narrow relevance of your own individual view on what is a "correct" result.

In 2005 less people will have got their first preference under AV, assuming that under FPTP everyone has voted entirely the way they truly wanted the result to go, but they would have got a parliament that really represents the balance of their views from a local context, not allowing (in this case) Tories to pick up seats where local constituents would rather have backed Labour than the Tories.

In short, if 2005 would have caused a larger majority for Blair, it's because people still really didn't get along with the Tories on a constituency by constituency basis.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fair: Adj....

This article is a longish one (as usual). At the end I've got a simple analogy that demonstrates how AV is fairer than FPTP. Want to skip to the end?

"fair [fair]
adjective, -er, -est, adverb, -er, -est, noun, verb
1. free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice: a fair decision; a fair judge."

"if a situation is fair, everyone is treated equally and in a reasonable way"

"a : marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism"

"1. treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination:"

"treating everyone equally and according to the rules or law"

I can understand why people on the No2AV side get confused with why we, on the Yes side, say AV is fairer. It's not just a buzz word, it's not spin, it's based purely on the actual definition of fairness (a few variations of which I've provided above!)

Basically, a FPTP supporter believes that their system is fair. On one level it is entirely fair, everyone that is registered to vote gets one vote that they can exercise at their leisure (or not at all, it's their choice). If you try and compare too quickly it can easily appear that AV is less fair than this; but if you think this you need to think a little bit longer about what AV actually does.

AV is a series of FPTP elections in "what if scenarios". If you believe that FPTP is fair, because everyone gets a chance to vote once for one person...the exact same thing happens under AV.

Round 1: 10 people vote for A, 7 for B and 3 for C.
Round 2: 11 people vote for A, 9 for B.

Each round is it's own FPTP election, except rather than the "winner" being singled out, it is the much more accurate measure of who the "loser" is.

So that's level 1, every vote is equal and every person has the same opportunity to cast that vote as they wish. AV is equally as fair as FPTP in this regard.

But the question then is how else can we describe FPTP as fair? The opportunity to make a vote is equal, but are the votes themselves equal? They each count the same, so you might presume yes. But the reality is this...

If 40% vote Labour under FPTP, and 35% vote for Tories...there are 25% of all votes cast that are irrelevant. If you took 5% of the Labour vote away, then that 5% would cost Labour the victory. If the Tories had 5% of their support not vote, then those people have had a huge effect in not allowing the Tories a win. If the 25% of others don't turn up...well...the result is the same.

FPTP treats minority views with disdain, and says not only that they might as well not have turned up...but that any further view they have is irrelevant. AV treats these minority sets of voters with more equality, not discriminating against them because they've not cast a vote for one of the top two candidates DESPITE having an opinion on them. It's for this reason that people vote overcome the inbuilt unfairness of not allowing voters to fully express themselves if they need to, unlike those that are part of the largest minorities that (luckily for them) don't need to.

AV, as I've said, is just a series of FPTP elections under one vote. The reason it becomes fairer than FPTP is because it tells those who have lost that their opinion on the remaining candidates still matters.

The question for those that support FPTP, and claim not only that FPTP is fair but that AV is unfair, is this...

If under FPTP there are three candidates running, X, Y and Z, where X has the plurality of votes, yet under AV Y would win because of Z's votes transferring to them, how is this any different (and thus less fair) than if Z had never run in the first place under FPTP, and Z supporters chose to vote for Y anyway?

The irony is this...any claim that AV is less fair than FPTP is to claim that FPTP elections that happen right now are also unfair in their result. But the reality is that the result has allowed every person, in every round, to state their preference in equality with every other has simply done more than FPTP in recognising that voters may have not only an opinion as such as "I like Lib Dem more than any other party", but also "But if Lib Dems weren't there, I'd like Labour before anyone else", and so on.

I know one argument that is going to come up here, and it's about "weighting". I've talked about this erroneous argument before of course, and it has no place in this discussion. Neither system is about how much people care about their vote, it's whether or not they do. FPTP and AV are binary systems, not analogue. We, quite rightly, never walk in and say "I feel I'll give 55% of a vote to this candidate today", it's either 1 vote or no vote. Simple.

In AV, if you're talking about "weighting" and "Someone's second preference counting more than someone's first" then you're getting caught up on an irrelevancy, you're viewing the system from an angle that doesn't actually matter in how it is practiced (or, more likely, you're trolling me...again).

If I have to move my vote to my second preference I am either voting for them or not. By voting for them I am saying I want them to be my MP. I am giving them another "1". I repeat from above, this situation is simply not unfair, and to claim it is unfair is to accept that FPTP is unfair in practice as well.

Disparity of how much each individual "cares" for their vote happens regardless of the system, it is both ignorant and deceitful to try and portray FPTP as a system where this difference in people's own weightings in comparison with each other doesn't exist either.

So this is how AV is more fair, it takes the equality of casting votes that is fair under FPTP, and then adds extra fairness by not discriminating against those that have had the misfortune to not be a part of the voting groups that need not give further than their first preference views; to not play favouritism towards the views alone of the largest two groups of voters without also letting the remaining voters the equal opportunity to have their choice between those two most popular candidates as well.

I'll end with an analogy, and you can decide for yourself which situation is most fair. There is a school class of 20 kids, and they have to decide what school play they're going to perform.

They vote between 3 different plays and the winning play is "The Three Musketeers", winning with 40% of the kids, 8 of them, saying they wanted to do it...beating "Cinderella" on 35% and "Romeo and Juliet" on 25%. All kids had one vote, written on a card in secret and then revealed at the same time to the teacher.

In the first scenario the vote stops there. 8 kids is enough to say what play will be done by all 20.

In the second scenario the teacher asks a different question after this, to those that didn't vote for the Three Musketeers or Cinderella to say which of those two plays they'd prefer. The teacher explains that clearly the most children want to perform either the Three Musketeers, or Cinderella, so it's only fair that the play that they perform is one of those two.

As it happens, those that voted for Romeo and Juliet all change their vote to Cinderella. They don't like the Three Musketeers. Cinderella wins, because 60% of the class want Cinderella more than the Three Musketeers.

So, I ask again...which situation produces the fairest result, and therefore is it really false for us to claim that AV is a fairer system than FPTP?