Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Not so simple and a lot more tactical

From the very start of the debate, many advocates for the alternative vote (AV) have insisted it eliminates the need for tactical voting. Whilst I’m sure this is a genuine mistake it does rather point to another common fallacy; that AV is simple. On the surface it is; what could be simpler than ranking your preferences in order? However, it would be foolish to judge a system solely on how it is intended to be used, whilst ignoring how it can be used.

With AV, if I vote “Conservative, Labour, Liberal” am I expressing a preference for Conservative ahead of Labour, and Labour ahead of Liberal, or am I actually expressing a preference against the BNP who also stood? Perhaps the “Conservative” preference is genuine and “Labour, Liberal” is tactical? A tactical vote, to quote Wikipedia, is when a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome; I would re-phrase this only slightly to say it’s when a voter expresses anything other than a sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.

Tactical voting under our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is still a clear indication of how I intend my vote to be counted. Tactical voting under AV is nothing of the kind. It may indicate how I intend my vote to be counted, it may only in part, or it may be wholly designed to exclude an unwanted option; and there are other variations which, for the sake of brevity, I’ll omit.

A mantra of “voters should rank the candidates in order of preference” doesn’t cut it when - frankly - they don’t have to, and if AV were as simple as some suggest, then its advocates would be more aware of this. That they’re not shows that it isn’t.

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