An Actual Vote for Alternative Vote

Like most contemporary UK citizens, I do not have much of a clue about the government, democracy, political theory or anything like that. Equally like them, I’m not going to let that stop me ranting on about a half baked opinion.
Today’s half baked opinion is about a bulletin I just saw on BBC New 24 concerning opposition to the AV referendum based on two arguments. Neither are new to me, but admittedly this is the first time I paid enough attention to them to think about them. The two are: 1) Putting the referendum on the same day as other elections may bias the result in the parts of those countries with elections, and 2) There should be a threshold in case there is not enough turnout, e.g. if the turnout is less than 40% then, even if the majority vote for electoral reform, it will not be passed.
They’re both ridiculous, except that the second one is slightly reasonable. Both are there to cater for the fact that people might not turn up, but if people don’t turn up to vote then it is their own bloody fault if something happens that they do not like. Decisions should be allowed to be made by those who turn up.
In the case of the first argument, even if the referendum is biased it shouldn’t have been- and it is the people who did not vote’s own fault that they did not exercise one of the few chances of direct democracy in this country (many of which will be winging about how the government do things without their direct say-so).
In the case of the second, there is a slight rationality behind it. If the turn out is 50% and the referendum is won in favour of AV by 51%, then it means that only 25.5% of the country voted for it. The argument suggests that, therefore, it be scrapped. This is still rubbish though, because we have to take it that the missing 50% didn’t care either way. They vetoed their vote, abdicated their power and turned a blind eye to their state. That is that.
It undermines democracy if the people who turn up’s choice is not taken into account because other people didn’t make a choice. However, it is useless actually argue with politicians about actual issues and principles these days; the ‘political’ move has come to be the ‘tactical’ move with ulterior motive, rather than a genuine action to better the polis. This move isn’t made because the proponents have a genuine convinction we need to account for the absent unwashed. It is because they don’t want AV and are trying to set up excuses to back out of it even if it wins fair and square.

Further, if we’re going to take a non-vote into account in anyway, it has to be as a abstained vote; as a vote that says: ‘I don’t care! Do whatever!’ Any other way of taking it would corrupt the ballot. Saying that someone who has voted ‘I don’t care!’ as ‘Maybe caring?’ (as we would if we put a fail-safe mechanism into the referendum) is like taking someone who votes Labour as ‘Maybe voting Tory?’ It makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Not only is this silly, but it sets an awful precedent. The fact that people are not ‘politically active’ is a silent crisis in this country and giving non-votes the power of ultimate veto in an election will just further silence that crisis. Not-voting becomes an institutionalised legitimate option, instead of deliberate not-acting. The incentive to act becomes less because they have the illusion that they have acted.

Rant over.


  1. LOL: rather good rant this! An argument that might be worth more consideration than the ones you have rebuffed concerns the relationship between the proposition of changing the voting system and views of the Liberal Democrats. The problem is that the change is one the Liberal Democrats favour (although only partially and they are not the only party to favour it). Since the passing of it would make coalitions more rather than less likely in future and since the Liberal Democrats are thereby potentially increased in status then, should the existing government become unpopular, as is likely, then this could in itself jeopardise a change that has other reasons to recommend it.

  2. Hi Gary, thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry for the late reply but I forgot that I hadn't… if that makes any sense!That argument is certainly worth more consideration, but I'd suggest that it is indicative of the lack of true political life in our society rather than of a genuine problem with the referendum date. Citizens should be making their decision based on whether they think AR is a good idea in principle, not on whether a party they do or do not like will gain more power or lose it. Especially since such opinions of parties tend to be quite shallow and superficial, based more on headlines than issues.

  3. Just to quickly add to that, if the electorate are making decisions based on what party supports the issue, rather than what the issue is, then what's needed is some sort of unbias initiative that educates them on AR, rather than tries to lobby their vote for or against it. The individuals need to be encouraged genuinely to think about both sides and make up their mind. That would not only put focus on the issues not the parties, but would be a step towards a more authentic electorate; the contemporary public need seminars not lectures.Of course, there's no way that such an initiative could happen. It would either have to be a private campaign, or the parties putting aside lobbying for educating on an issue. I'm not sure the former would have the money or the attention, and the latter simply wouldn't be taken up because the job of the political party is to lobby votes not to educate on issues; and a shallow unthinking electorate is the ideal for such a politics.

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