Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it


9:10 am - February 13th 2011

by Rupert Read    


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As a #Yes2AV supporter, I am sometimes asked this question: “Will there be an option, in AV, to just vote for one party when not wanting any of the others in at all?”

The answer is YES. Under AV, if you simply place a ‘1’ next to your favoured candidate (rather than a cross), then you are voting as if it is FPTP (the current system), and that is completely allowed.

In fact, there is a very important point here: It really is unnecessary for FPTP-lovers to oppose AV at all. FPTP is ‘contained within’ AV.

FPTP-supporters can simply vote using a ‘1’ instead of a cross, and could lobby for everyone else to do so too. There really is no need and no reason for them to oppose the new system.

It would just be nice if they were to let those of us who would like to rank candidates by preference to be allowed to do so.

It is really rather illiberal of them to stop us from doing this, when we are perfectly happy for them NOT to list candidates in preference order (below ‘1’) if that is their preference.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Rupert Read is a Green Party councillor and ran as a MEP candidate in Eastern region in 2009. He blogs at Rupert's Read and Comment is free
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Reader comments


So the current one-man, one-vote system is illiberal, but one-man, two votes is good?

Why not one-man, three votes then?

Or one-man, as many votes as there are candidates?

Surely then one-man,two-votes is as illiberal as one-man, one vote?

2. Mike Killingworth

Minor point: I think returning officers will be advised to treat an “X” on ballot papers as a “1”.

More generally, this is a most disingenuous article: Rupert knows as well as I do that AV will make a difference to election results – if it didn’t hold out the prospect of doing so, why would he support it?

No one gets two votes Ian. That would mean someone getting twice as much say as someone else.

It’s about increased choice of preference for where the one vote goes so it is more likely to be counted in deciding the result.

@ 3. How on earth do you know that ? Absolutely nobody in Britain has a clue as to how the actual voting mechanism will work if AV is passed. AV is nothing more than a vague term for a multitude of voting systems and permutations that would have to be considered after a “yes” vote.

Purely for that reason I will be voting “no” to AV not because I think it’s bad but because nobody can say what we are going to get. We also know it’s at least four times more expensive to administer.

5. Mike Killingworth

[4] Do tell us exactly how much you’re willing to pay for democracy, Ted. After all, and I’m sure Hosni Mubarak would want me to make this point (since I don’t for one moment suppose he surfs here) – uncontested elections cost the taxpayer least of all

Ted – how do you “know” that it’s more expensive?

It uses paper ballots – indeed the SAME paper ballots as FPTP.

No counting machines are needed – that’s a myth. All it requires is returning officers who can shift bits of paper around.

I’m sure they can do that.

Ted/4: AV is nothing more than a vague term for a multitude of voting systems and permutations that would have to be considered after a “yes” vote.

This would be a far more convincing point were it not for the fact that the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill sets out exactly what form of AV would be used in the event of a “yes” vote. So anyone who cares can either read the Bill or more likely one of the easy reading guides to its content (including, of course, the one that the Electoral Commission will be producing if/when the Bill passes)

Section 9 of the Bill is the relevant bit.

In case you can’t be bothered to look, it’s the “standard” form of AV, where you can give between zero and N preferences (N being the number of candidates standing), 50% of remaining valid preferences are needed for election, duplicate preferences are disallowed, and ties are broken by previous rounds if possible.

We also know it’s at least four times more expensive to administer.

I don’t. Do you have a source for that assertion because it sounds utter rubbish. Given the typical constituency results, I’d be surprised if it more than doubled counting time in any constituency, with 25-50% extra being the norm, and I can’t see anything other than counting time – a relatively small contribution to the total – where it would increase election administration costs.

@ 5 Mike K

Democracy is valueless when no realistic benefit is evident to ordinary everyday folk. I do however accept that there are ‘higher orders’ of political thinkers who occasionally know best.

@ 6 Elliot F

With all forms of AV counting accuracy is considered to be of paramount importance. It’s the tiny percentage over or under 50% that could easily determine whether a potential MP goes through to the second round or not. An additional cost will automatically be incurred for this alone.

Because of this need for accuracy extra counting and recount time will also be needed – at overtime rates for staff. Retraining staff is also thought to incur extra costs but that has not been calculated yet.

@ 7 cim

We will see. No official figures are available yet as far as I know ?

AV is not PR nor is it a staging post on the road to PR. AV is simply a retooled version of FPTP. Take Back Parliament are a load of deluded fools if they think AV is real PR or even close to PR, or that it will even lead to PR.

10. Mike Killingworth

So now Ted asserts both that he knows how much more AV will cost than FPTP and also that at least one element of the cost has not yet been calculated.

Fortunately, he is one of the “ordinary everyday folk” and the rest of us aren’t. He knows, you know!

@ 10 Mike

Don’t forget to add on legal costs for legitimate challenges to results.

Sorry old chap/chappess, just too much unnecessary aggravation and cost for something we don’t actually need. All brought about because the tories did not have the guts to govern without an overall majority and then go back to the country when it failed.

12. Mike Killingworth

[11] Presumably Cameron feared that a Tory minority government would not be able to get a majority at a second election and/or didn’t want to be a PM at the mercy of the opposition parties (perhaps he had been communing with the shade of Ramsay MacDonald) as far as its timing was concerned. And it was widely supposed that a second election producing another hung Parliament would lead to a Lab-Lib coalition committed to STV.

@ 12 Mike K

Respectable Labour would not lower themselves under any circumstances to a coalition with today’s multi faceted Liberal-Democrats. Wouldn’t I just love to hear Prestcot’s view on that idea !

14. Mike Killingworth

[12] I think you’ll find that Labour did indeed want to govern in coalition with the LibDems after the 2010 election, but the two parties together didn’t have a majority of seats so the LibDems weren’t interested. Also of course Clegg has far better personal chemistry with Cameron than with Brown, although I’m struggling in all honesty to think of anyone – other than his wife, perhaps – that Brown does have personal chemisty with 😆

@ 14 ……me thinks you’re having a Sunday morning giggle ? Labour (left) will never forgive that rubbish known as the “gang of four” for setting up the SDP and then climbing into bed with the Liberals to make this rubbish we now call Liberal-Democrat. Even real hard-headed tories must be squirming with embarrassment because they know the Lib-Dems will work very hard to damage them politically.

@15 To be fair the Tories are doing a damn good job of damaging themselves politically anyway. They don’t need much help on that front.

Mike K.: Thanks for the factual point in (2). You are right, as was Imogen in her comment here: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2011/02/av-contains-fptp-within-it-new-argument.html

As for your substantive point: Well yes, I expect AV to make a big difference to British politics, as I have argued for instance in my recent letter in PROSPECT (see http://broadleftblogging.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/av-is-a-game-changer/ ) and in more detail here: http://oneworldcolumn.blogspot.com/2011/01/from-alternative-media-to-alternative.html . But that doesn’t make my post here ‘disingenuous’ (though I hope you enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek style of some of it). For it is literally true that, if FPTP fanatics want to, they can carry on voting the same old way, and that they could try to persuade the populace at large to do the same. That would be the ‘liberal’ approach: to let those of us who want to list preferences do so, and let the rest stay as they are.

@9 : I don’t think you have thought this through carefully enough, ‘buddyhell’. Check out my earlier piece here http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/06/28/why-the-left-will-always-be-at-a-loss-without-vote-reform/ for reasoning as to why AV could be part of a long-term pluralist road to PR (e.g. to STV or to a proportional version of AV-Plus).

@9 – what you are ARE right about is what I make as my main point in this piece – that the opposition of FPTP fans to AV is wrong-headed, if it is based on a belief that AV is NECESSARILY in itself radically different from FPTP.

@ 7: thanks for your excellent comment, cim.

Sorry, I cannot see the point of this post. You are saying:

Like FPTP? Then you’ll love AV because it is FPTP but more so.

The fact is, AV is not PR. End of.

Ted: There would be no basis for legal challenges, the terms of AV are set out clearly, and simply losing under the system of AV will be no more open to legal challenge than those who lose under FPTP.

As for the cost of administering, we know that the cost of elections is somewhere around £80mil to run (though the cost of actual administration appears to be much closer to £45mil according to ministry of justice accounts). This includes the cost of the polling venues (unlikely to change), cost of polling papers (won’t change), cost of returning officer’s expenses (won’t change significantly if at all) and the cost of the count (that may take longer). Even if we take a worse case scenario (knowing that certain staffing and venue costs are about £7mil, and that 1/3rd of all constituencies won’t require more than the normal amount of counting) we can say there would be no more than an increase of £25mil, tops.

This is an increase of just below/around 25% assuming that it takes twice as long to count an AV vote, which is also worse case scenario.

So at worst we’ll be looking at around an extra £25mil, which equates to something like…dun dun dun….40p extra per taxpayer per election, or less than 10p per year.

Such a hardship to endure for greater understanding of people’s political opinion, and for enhanced democracy at a constituency level!

9. They don’t think it’s PR, nor do they claim it is. The only people still trying to link the whole PR argument in to this debate are those campaigning against AV as a way of trying to scare those that don’t want PR.

Whether it’s a staging post or not is a question no-one can honestly answer until the result is in one way or another. I don’t believe that a rejection of reform here will really be a staging post to PR either, when Cameron and the band of conservative newspapers in this country declare it is a victory for FPTP and the status quo.

@ 22 …..Fully explained – thanks

25. Tom Harris MP

Good points, but your admission that many will use only their first preference actually undermines one of the main arguments for AV – namely that every MP will be elected with more than 50% of the vote. If enough people refuse to use all their preferences, it’s likely that large number of MPs would, in fact, secure election on less than 50% of those who trooped along to the polling station.

This problem emerged when AV was introduced in Australia. The authorities’ response was to legally mandate voters to use all their preferences – forcing voters to place a preference against even the most most hated of candidates. Unless the government here does the same (and it won’t) the Yes2AV campaign’s claim about every MP having majority support in their constituencies will be exposed as mere wishful thinking.

@25 Heh, if the Government does make it mandatory to use all your preferences I can already see Private Eye running the gag that finally everyone will be given the opportunity to vote Conservative.

Whilst I appreciate the point you’re trying to make, this:

“It really is unnecessary for FPTP-lovers to oppose AV at all. FPTP is ‘contained within’ AV.”

… is nonsense.

Have you not considered that fans of FPTP might look on the ‘integrity’ of the system as important? Just because they retain the ability to vote as they always have done, doesn’t mean nothing has changed – else, why the debate?

As Tom Harris MP has pointed out (@25), the Australians have introduced mandatory preferences in response to AV not working out quite “as planned” (by whom exactly?) – so if you propose fundamentally changing the system, expect the Daily Fail to start bleating about slippery slopes, etc.

25/Tom Harris MP: your admission that many will use only their first preference actually undermines one of the main arguments for AV – namely that every MP will be elected with more than 50% of the vote.

It does annoy me, as someone who will definitely be voting for AV over FPTP, that the Yes campaign is making that a major argument. Firstly, because as you say, with optional preferencing it’s rarely true (running simulated counts, I would guess that 10-30% of constituencies – it’s very sensitive to initial conditions – would end up with below 50% of the vote, although most of those would be 48-49%, and below 45% would be extremely rare)

Secondly, because that they get 50% of the valid preferences doesn’t necessarily translate, as it’s lazily spoken of, as 50% support. I always give full preferences in AV elections; you often don’t have to get that far down the list before you get to “least worst left” rather than “supported” on my votes. (Still, if it gets that far, lesser of two evils is still less evil)

It’s certainly a useful property of the system, but it’s much more subtle in both definition and benefits than the Yes campaign imply.

29. Paul Tinnion

I think what’s being forgotten is that we have had AV elections in this country for some time. Mayoral elections are a modified form of AV. Local government by-elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland have precisely the form of AV specified in the bill, as STV and AV are the same when electing one candidate. The last two by-elections in Scotland, Forres and Carnoustie, are exemplary demonstations of AV in practice. There has not been the merest hint of any tactical voting, as far as I know, and bar charts have disappeared.
It does cost a little more. Counts take longer which is why they are held the next day, but that wouldn’t be allowed to happen for parliament.
Candidates are sometimes still elected with less than 50 percent of the total oiginal vote, but they will have received far more votes.

@9 buddyhell:

While I agree it doesn’t lead necessarily to STV (or any other form of true proportional representation), neither would perpetuating the current system.

On its own terms, it’s an improvement over the status quo, since (once people get used to the idea) it will eliminate most tactical voting, by making it possible to cast a first preference vote for a party who weren’t either first or second in that particular seat in the last election without “wasting your vote” or helping the interests of a party you don’t like. It makes the system much more open.

Unless we get AV, all future elections here will be much like the last – a meaningless spectcle of Lib Dems and Tories standing around the entrances of the station shouting the bipartisan slogan “it’s a two horse race here” while trying to convince us that the opposing party is so terrifying that we should vote for anything to stop them winning.

Good points Lee, thanks.

@25: Tom Harris MP: Your argument here is rather desperate. The fact that FPTP supporters can continue to vote their same old way if they wish, under AV, hardly proves that AV will not result in most MPs who are elected under AV having majority support – for it all depends on how many people choose not to use their lower preferences. I expect that what will actually happen is that most people will get used to the new system, will see its superior rationality in terms of overcoming the nonsense / the necessary evil (under FPTP) of ‘wasted votes’ and ‘tactical voting’, and WILL use their preferences fairly fully. My point was: it is up to you (and each one of us). If you, as an FPTP fanatic, wish to hold out for FPTP under AV, and to campaign indeed for others to do the same, then you still can.

“. If enough people refuse to use all their preferences, it’s likely that large number of MPs would, in fact, secure election on less than 50% of those who trooped along to the polling station.”

It would still be fewer than under the current system though.

in fact they can still vote with a cross if they choose to. The way the legislation is written says that as long as you show a clear preference then the ballot will be valid. A cross is a clear 1st pref.
You can vote with roman numerals or emoticons.

@33 Thanks Nicola; absolutely, yes. I hadn’t gathered when I wrote my first version of this that that point is EXPLICITLY made in the legislation, which is good.

36. Stephen Lawrence, Cambridge, UK

a) although AV does “contain” FPTP, anti-AVers don’t want their opponents easily to be able to “gang up” against them. But then they don’t seem to want their friends in “similar” parties to transfer their vote to them either. One could describe AV as a cheap way of getting several different elections on one ballot – but FPTP-ers don’t want others to be able to change their mind. They want a wasted vote to remain wasted. Their opponets are, after all, wasters, in their opinion…?

b) AV is more expensive. Unless the result is already decided, losing piles will have to separated into N-1 smaller piles and redistributed. FOr second redistribution, either 2nd- or 3rd- preference votes will have to be noted, depending on whether that ballot paper has already been redistributed before. For 3rd redistribution, either 2nd-, 3rd- or 4th-preference, and so on. It will make for long election nights, lots of work for counting agents, and quite a few more recounts….

How is anybody getting two votes, you wouldn’t say that if we were having a multi round run-off system would you?
In the final round everybody’s vote is counted once.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  2. Tony Begg

    RT @libcon: Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  3. MattHanley

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  4. P. S. Wong

    RT @libcon: Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  5. Ben Cooper

    RT @libcon Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30 < they can also use the traditional 'x' can't they? #Yes2AV #No2AV

  6. Robert CP

    RT @BenCooper86: RT @libcon Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30 < they can also use the traditional 'x' can …

  7. Richard Shaw

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  8. Martell Thornton

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it | Liberal Conspiracy: More generally, this is a most disingenuous artic… http://bit.ly/ftx00z

  9. David Austin

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/UITboyP via @libcon

  10. robertallen14

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  11. Vote For A Change

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  12. UnlockDemocracy

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  13. Power2010

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  14. Make Votes Count

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  15. ruthast

    RT @libcon: Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  16. Arthur Davis

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  17. Rooftop Jaxx

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  18. Cadan ap Tomos

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  19. Martin Davies

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  20. Greg Wild

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  21. Chris Bramall

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  22. Adele Armitage

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  23. Ben Ravilious

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  24. Paul Bentham

    RT @libcon: Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it http://bit.ly/hhmX30

  25. av monkey

    RT @RupertRead: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/13/alternative-vote-contains-fptp-within-it/ My latest #Yes2AV piece, on @LibCon . …

  26. nicola_prigg

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/oTfjdZf via @libcon

  27. Dizzying Crest

    Alternative Vote contains FPTP within it | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/NWwtvq6 via @libcon





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