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Cheers - AE

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Making AV work... for politicians.

I've made no secret that I'm a bit of a fan of AV type voting systems, although I've never had first hand experience of voting in one. Yet. Australia, as I've mentioned before, uses Preference Voting* to elect federal MPs to the equivalent of the Commons, the House of Representatives, which is close enough to AV for the point I want to make. This is that I've now become aware of a problem with these sort of systems, and that is the temptation for parties to do back room deals for second preferences before the bloody election is even held.
The Greens and Labor today confirmed a preference deal at the forthcoming election.

The arrangement will see Labor receive Greens' preferences in more than 50 marginal seats while the Greens will receive Labor's Senate preferences in every state and territory.

Only a handful of seats are not included in the deal and preferences will be negotiated at a local level in these seats between Labor and the Greens.
Now I was always aware that this can and does happen since it's pretty much how the coalition here functions. The National Party and the Liberal Party have an understanding that generally they won't put up candidates in each other's territory, and so non-Labor voters in rural Australia will end up voting for the Nats while their urban and suburban counterparts will put a 1 next to a Liberal candidate. Now obviously there's nothing to stop this happening in a First Past the Post system, and in fact it can and does. Remember back in the 1997 UK election when Labour and the LibDems both dropped out of the Tatton seat to give BBC journo and "anti-sleaze candidate" Martin Bell a free shot at Neil Hamilton? But this is more akin to official party guidelines on tactical voting. Parties here send out a "How To Vote" guide (I'm not sure why but I was surprised that there was a page on Wikipedia for it) with all the other shit that they send, and this consists of telling you what order you should rank candidates in.
Conscious that some Greens at grass-roots level will not support the deal, Senator Brown stressed that preference deals were not binding and voters were free to direct preferences as they wished.

"You can make up your mind up about where you’re going to put your number one vote, and I hope that’s for the Greens, and then you make your mind up about who you put second and who you put third," he said.
Okay, Bob, so there's nothing to stop a potential Green voter putting 2, 3 and 4 etc where they like, though I notice you're not mentioning how the deal's real advantage for your party is the chance of an extra Green Senator.

But I'm really looking at how this might apply to a future UK situation where AV or something very much like it has replaced FPTP. Now, again this is already possible in FPTP, and there have been plenty of moves among LibDems and Labour people in the UK to encourage tactical voting to keep 'the hated Tories out' (the usual mantra - I've never been able to vote tactically to keep all three out, but I fucking would if I could). But I can't help but wonder if this kind of voting system, and any where second choice votes are up for grabs, encourages this kind of thing. Would AV be suicide for the Tories by creating a system where Labour encourages people to send second preferences the way of the LibDems and vice versa? Or, if the unholy alliance of the Twins actually holds together well for five years, will they choose to freeze out Labour the same way? And is either good for democracy (yes, I know the D-word has plenty of issues of its own)?

Ultimately, do you want politicians to start lecturing you on your second preferences on top of everything else they're already telling you to do? I reckon I can live with it, though ask me again after I've lived through a few more elections here, but if you don't then best you keep this in mind when the UK has it's referendum.

* I do have a problem with voting being compulsory, and I've made no secret of that either, and I'm also not keen on having to rank all candidates on the ballot paper. What if I despise all but one of them? I either spoil the paper or leave it incomplete, either of which is a non-vote, or I accept that my second preference is going to someone I really don't want to vote for. As I said back in May an Optional Preferences, as used for Queensland's state parliament elections, would be better. And for Christ's sake it has to be voluntary or there's no incentive for the bastards to make themselves worth voting for.
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