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Alternative Vote System

The alternative vote has different names depending on the country.

In Australia for example, Preferential Voting is the same thing as the alternative vote system. Members of Parliament and the House of Representatives seats (senators) use this voting system.

Members of Parliament and the House of Representatives in Australia are different phrases that mean the same thing.

It is a form of a ballotting system aimed to deal with the issue of vote splitting.

How to Vote in an Alternate Vote System

It's pretty simple and straightforward.

On the voting ballot, voters will have the option to place a number by each candidate's name on the ballot paper, with one (1) being for their favourite, two (2) for their second favourite, three (3) for their third favourite... you get the point.

Depending on the number of candidates on the ballot, voters have the choice to put numbers on as many or as few candidates as they like.

Read also: Plural Executive in Texas | What it is

Preferential Votes and how they work and counted

This is how it works

The functionaries (vote counters) on election day will consider carefully and look through the ballot papers to see the candidate all the voters choose as their first choice or preference. That is, the candidate with the most number "1"s on the ballot paper.

All the votes with the first preference votes will go through proper counting to see if any of the candidates have more than 50 per cent of the votes plus one.

If any single candidate gets top (#1) preference votes — an absolute majority, that candidate wins. For this reason, AV is usually classified as a majoritarian system.

If no candidate has secured 50% of the votes plus one (i.e. 51%) or more, the candidate with the lowest number of votes (candidate with the lowest number of voters preferring him/her as number "1") loses and exits the race.

Next, the functionaries will again look through the ballot papers that choose the eliminated candidate as their first choice (but with the lowest number) then look at the candidate those voters choose as their second choice.

First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated.

Those voters' second preferences from the ballot papers of the eliminated candidate are then assigned to the remaining standing candidates in the order as marked on the ballot.

This process will go through a recurrent process until there are only two candidates left in the count but one candidate of the two candidates must secure 50% of the votes, plus one.

What these steps are trying to achieve is that, if a voter's first choice doesn't win, their second choice might have a chance.

Although, a voter has the choice to choose just one candidate as his/her preference and leave the rest checkboxes empty.

Here is a practical example

Let's assume for a second that you reside within an electorate (or constituency) and there are five candidates to choose from — John Doe, Juanita Main, Diaz Lane, Austin Rio and Garry Blade.

If your first choice (preferred) of the candidates among the five is Garry Blade, you will put the number "1" on the ballot paper for Garry Blade as your 1st preferred candidate. And if Juanita Main is your second preferred candidate, you'll put the number "2" for her; on and on till all the boxes are full.

(If you wish, you can leave the remaining boxes empty and fill only Diaz Lane as your number 1 favourite candidate. But your vote will receive only one count in each round that takes place and all empty boxes you could have signified but didn't will be ignored).

But when all the votes are counted, none of the five candidates has more than 50 per cent of the votes and unfortunately, Garry Blade (your first choice) got the lowest amount of 1st votes.

Let's assume the candidates got the following votes after the first count:

  • Diaz Lane: 659 votes
  • John Doe: 369 votes
  • Juanita Main: 200 votes
  • Austin Rio: 120 votes
  • Garry Blade: 95 votes

The calculation follows the following process.

After all the votes (as listed above) are summed up, we'll have 1,443 votes in all.

Diaz Lane has 659 votes, so we'll have 659 / 1,443 = 0.46

0.46 x 100 = 45.7%.

So, Diaz Lane has 45.7% of the total votes.

This method of calculation will be used for other candidates as well.

Here are the tabular results of the hypothetical election.

The first round of vote count

CandidateFirst Preference VotesPercentage
Diaz Lane65945.7%
John Doe36925.5%
Juanita Main20013.9%
Austin Rio1208.32%
Garry Blade956.58%

In the above example, it is obvious that none of the candidates won an outright majority of the first preference votes. Thus, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes (Garry Blade in this example) is excluded from the race.

Next, the ballot papers of those who choose Garry Blade as their first preference will be adjusted, checking and collating who they choose as their second preference.

Henceforth, let's assume that, of the 95 first-preference votes for Garry Blade, 90 listed Diaz Lane and 5 listed John Doe as their second preference respectively.

Those numbers will be added to Diaz and Joe accordingly.

Diaz Lane's initial votes are 659.

Plus 90 votes from the ballot papers of those who choose Diaz as their second preference = 749 votes.

John Doe initial votes are 369 + 5 = 374 votes.

The adjusted vote totals would be as follows:

CandidateFirst Preference VotesPercentage
Diaz Lane74951.91%
John Doe37425.92%
Juanita Main20013.86%
Austin Rio1208.32%

On the second vote count, Diaz Lane has won over 50% of the majority of the votes thereby making him the winner.

But if none of the candidates has won an outright majority of the votes, still.

Austin Rio will be excluded from the race, and the above process of computation will be repeated.

What countries of the world use the alternative vote system?

  • The United States of America,
  • Ireland,
  • Australia,
  • Papua New Guinea,
  • Fiji, and the
  • Republic of Nauru (the third smallest country in the world)

Again, Australia for example uses different variations of the preferential voting system for their House of Representatives and Senate respectively.

And so for other countries.

What are the pros and cons of using the alternative vote system?

The purpose of any voting system in any democratic state is to adhere to the will and power of the people — sovereignty.

Advantages of the alternative vote system

In most cases, the preferential voting system achieves the same result as the First Past the Post voting system says Antony Green, an Australian elections expert.

Additionally, all other balloting systems e.g. First Past the Post (FPTP), Supplementary Vote (SV) and Preferential Vote (AV) et cetera are all "Past the Post" systems, but the only thing that changes is what the "post" means.

The major advantage of this voting system is that it gives a voter the choice to vote for his/her favourite candidate. However, if their preferred candidate is not winning or not popular, their vote can go to someone else on the ballot whom they have signified as the number "2".

Another great thing about AV is that a voter can vote for any candidate they prefer without worrying about wasting their vote. This means, there is less need for tactical voting. This will encourage more people to vote.

In other words, apart from the fact that you always have the opportunity to vote for your preferred candidate first and if for any reason, your preferred candidate is not likely to win, you can always signify who your second preferred candidate should be.

This security completely eliminates tactical voting; in addition, it allows for a more accurate view of the electorate's political preference to be collected.

Tactical voting is a way a voter chooses or votes for a candidate not his/her choice but is of lesser evil (so to speak) to another candidate they don't want at all.

AV system also makes it more difficult for extremist parties to win an election, because it would be improbable to secure second or third preference votes.

Negative campaigning is very common in the PR method for example, but lesser in the AV method as it encourages candidates to go after second and third preferences.

It also facilitates the votes of lined up candidates to compile, so that various but linked interests can be merged to win representation.

Disadvantages of the alternative vote system

Some of the following outlined cons of the AV voting system are not in acceptance across the board, however, there are some who disagree with them while others believe they are major flaws in the voting system.

AV is a great way to elect a single person like a president or mayor but not that a great way to elect a parliament since the AV method is not proportional. In other words, it operates in single-member districts and thus produces results that are disproportional and thus can discourage welcoming behaviour in deeply divided societies where ethnic groups are and in specific geographic regions. Applying the AV method to larger, multi-member districts can create a lot of disputes. Although, Nauru uses a modified version of the alternative vote system in two-member districts.

It pushes for the least bad to win, rather than the most popular among the electorates. But on the other hand, the most preferred candidate in the FPTP method is not always usually voted.

It is open to abuse, in the sense that parties will have the opportunity to tell voters which order to vote in. Others argued that a voter is never obliged to follow his/her favourite party instructions; a voter has in his or her own free will to choose their own path on who they will like to vote for. Whereas, in the FPTP voting system, the parties usually tell their supporters how to vote.

It is a complicated system. In other words, many believe the process of counting is too cumbersome unlike the FPTP method because it requires a high level of literacy to be effective. But others believe it is partly true because you only have to understand how the counting of the vote is done in order to take part in it.

And takes too much time to get the results of the election; i.e. it takes a longer time to count. Although this claim is unverified.

In conclusion, some claim that the alternative vote method costs too much money. For example, switching to a new voting system would cost too much and expensive counting machines are unavoidable.

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