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AV: What could it mean for women?


4:15 pm - March 18th 2011

by Guest    


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Contribution by Hayley Chamberlain

What has surprised me more than anything over the course of the campaign (yes, even more than NO2AV’s outlandish adverts) is the lack of discussion about how the alternative vote will affect under-represented groups in society. It is true that on its own, AV is not going to put more women into Parliament overnight, but there isn’t a system in the world that would. Much work will still need to be done to make Parliament a more welcoming place for women and men of all backgrounds and this cannot be achieved without the will of the parties.

However, recent experience in America shows that upgrading our system to AV can have a profound effect on the nature of election campaigns, helping to make politics more accessible to women and men from more diverse backgrounds. Oakland in California held its first mayoral election using AV (known there as Instant Runoff Voting) last November and the difference it made was striking. The favoured, establishment candidate Don Perata was beaten by Jean Quan, who became the first Asian American female mayor. If the election had been run using first past the post, Perata would have won comfortably even though most people in the city didn’t actually want him.

But it isn’t just the result that is worth noting here, it is the way Quan won. With AV, candidates can’t just rely on their core supporter base to win the election: they have to reach out and address the issues that are important to a much wider range of people.

Quan’s strength was that she was a community organiser with deep roots in the area she was seeking to represent. Meanwhile Perata just threw money at the situation, spending just under $1m dollars (Quan only spent $380,000).

This is just one illustration of how AV can lead to more nuanced campaigning and give rise to the need to really listen to constituents and to look for potential areas of consensus, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a game of meaningless point-scoring.

The fact that candidates will have to reach beyond their core voters to be sure of a chance of gaining the required 50% also means that there will be increased opportunities for women’s groups to have their say. One thing we know for certain is that First Past the Post isn’t working for women. Our current system is renowned for preserving the status quo.

AV is a more progressive system that could shake up our institutions and help make way for real improvements to women’s representation. On 5th May we have the once in a lifetime opportunity to move away from the out-dated system of First Past the Post.

At the current rate of progress it will take us another 100 years before we see gender parity in the Commons so we really shouldn’t let any opportunity for change pass us by.

Hayley Chamberlain is Women’s Officer at the Electoral Reform Society.

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Reader comments


I think it’s a possible side effect, but equally it’s possible that men will just get better campaign agents and any inherent sexism in local communities will still see them pushed through. I don’t think anyone, unfortunately, can claim simply putting AV in to practice will help out minorities. :/

I say this as a pro-AV supporter.

I wasn’t aware that women are a minority.
In fact, I see quite a lot of them.

And no one stops women from voting for female candidates now. They don’t, at least not the majority of women.

The last female PM served under FPTP.

If the election had been run using first past the post, Perata would have won comfortably even though most people in the city didn’t actually want him.

Can we be accurate here please. More people in the city didn’t want Mr Perata after some of their first (and possibly second) choice candidates were removed. On the first round of voting more people didn’t want Ms Quan – more people voted for candidates other than Quan than did for candidates other than Perata. You are not comparing like to like there.

Anyway, the result would probably have been the same under the old system, because Oakland required a mayor to have 50% of the votes – so under the old system they had a run off if no one candidate had the support required (note the reference to avoiding the expense of a run off). So switching to a partial AV system (it only allowed for two recounts, with ten candidates) probably can not claim responsibility for the election of Ms Quan. With any luck, the election of Ms Quan reflects her abilities, politics and the open-mindedness of the Oakland electorate. But, if you believe women can only get elected due to a system, fair enough…

@3

If Perata had got 40% of votes in the first round then you can make the claim that 60% of people didn’t want him as their Mayor – therefore, he could have had a substantial plurality without being the choice that most people wanted out of the two leading candidates. However, I do agree with some of what you say. Certainly, whilst there is an argument that more diverse candidates might get elected under AV, due to the system forcing candidates to reach out to more voters, this case study doesn’t prove it.

This is possibly the maddest thing I have ever read. When I read it the first time I was going to post my pet mad argument – that AV will lead to a return to violence in Northern Ireland as the hardcore parties are shut out of the political process by the third preferences of people in the other community in each case.

Why go haring off across the world for examples. We use a preferential voting system for Mayoral elections in England. How many of the elected mayors in England’s mayoral authorities are women? I make it 2.

“More people in the city didn’t want Mr Perata after some of their first (and possibly second) choice candidates were removed.”

Redundant argument, under FPTP some people are forced to vote with 2nd or worse preferences as if they are first. There is no guarantee under FPTP that the winner has “most support” either.

I’m in favour of AV over FPTP, and I’m in favour of a more representative set of people in Parliament. But I don’t think there’s a lot to join the two up.

AV is not going to put more women into Parliament overnight, but there isn’t a system in the world that would

Sure there is: any system with gender-based quotas applied. Worked for Rwanda, will probably have similarly significant effects in India at their next election.
(Open or Closed List PR is probably the easiest system to apply quotas to, but most systems are okay with it)

Perata would have won comfortably even though most people in the city didn’t actually want him

Given that there was a 51:49% split on the final round, and there were eight other candidates, I find it exceedingly unlikely that Perata was the Condorcet Loser in that election. Certainly he wasn’t the Condorcet Winner, but there’s no guarantee that Quan was either.

You killed off the title of your post with: “AV is not going to put more women into Parliament overnight, but there isn’t a system in the world that would” The rest of the article set out that Quan won with a better campaign strategy as ‘a community organiser with deep roots in the area she was seeking to represent’. Both men as well as women are capable of ‘nuanced’ campaigning (as well as headbanging partisanship).

PS: The article also overlooks the possibility that there may not be an equal number of male and female candidates selected by the parties as a whole, that there may not be an equal number on the ballot paper, and that a preferred party may not be fielding a female candidate. If you really wanted that, pro-AV women would be campaigning for multi-member constituencies on a gender-balanced party list system.

9. Richard Gadsden

It is true that on its own, AV is not going to put more women into Parliament overnight, but there isn’t a system in the world that would.

Dual lists would. There are plenty of other problems with that system, but it would achieve that goal.

[For them as don’t know, dual lists is straight list-PR, but with two separate lists, one for men and one for women, so if Labour get 200 MPs, they take the first 100 from the men list and the first 100 from the women list].

Apart from all the other problems, which list do trans* or intersexed people get put on? Gender isn’t simply a binary, you know.

9. And it doesn’t solve other issues. Should we have a list for disabled candidates too? And then split them 50/50 by gender (trans issues not withstanding)?

Parliament has to be about who is best for the job, and the person best for the job is, by definition, whoever the public want. If they want all male, female, disabled, blind or clown MPs, that’s their choice…parliament has no duty or requirement to reflect the public, only to represent (advocate for) it.

@10 “Parliament has to be about who is best for the job, and the person best for the job is, by definition, whoever the public want. If they want all male, female, disabled, blind or clown MPs, that’s their choice”

Of course when women are put in front of the voters, they have just as much chance of being elected as men – in some cases, a higher chance. The question is, why are they relatively rarely put forward by parties in winnable seats – particularly by the Lib Dems, and historically the Tories?

If it’s simply because of the number of women coming forward, you have a long-term cultural and freedom of choice question which is difficult to disentangle from a whole set of other issues by clumsy procedural tweaks.

If, on the other hand, it’s simply that in the process of being selected, there are skills and assets you need which are unrelated to how good you would be at the substantive job of MP, then there’s a flaw in the system which it is incumbent on the politically active to address.

But AV doesn’t seem to me to address it at all. Actually, I wonder whether selecting candidates by FPTP might help. I’m not seriously suggesting it, but if women are more likely to vote to select women, and there are fewer of them standing, it suggests they are more likely to be ahead on the first round than the last.

“But AV doesn’t seem to me to address it at all. Actually, I wonder whether selecting candidates by FPTP might help. I’m not seriously suggesting it, but if women are more likely to vote to select women, and there are fewer of them standing, it suggests they are more likely to be ahead on the first round than the last.”

FPTP never helps with choice in selection of your preferred candidate. There’s the dimension of “well I don’t think people would vote for her, because she’s a woman” or similar more realistic thoughts that, through FPTP, have a negative impact on candidates that may be perceived to be “losers” or “unlikely to be winners”, an impact that is removed completely by AV.

@ 12:

“There’s the dimension of “well I don’t think people would vote for her, because she’s a woman” or similar more realistic thoughts that, through FPTP, have a negative impact on candidates that may be perceived to be “losers” or “unlikely to be winners”, an impact that is removed completely by AV.”

Erm, why, exactly? If you don’t think that people will vote for a woman under FPTP, why on earth would your opinion change just because we bring in AV?

14. Charlieman

OP: “Meanwhile Perata just threw money at the situation, spending just under $1m dollars (Quan only spent $380,000).”

“Only” $380,000 for a city with a population of 390,000? The cap for the London mayoral elections is ~£500,000 or ~$800,000 for a population of 7.6 million.

Comparison of elections in the USA and the UK is not always helpful. Even when the counting process is the same, the campaign processes are totally different.

And we should not argue for AV or STV because they deliver results that we like. We should campaign for systems that best reflect the choice of voters. Even when that elects people that we don’t like.

15. Charlieman

@12 Lee Griffin: “There’s the dimension of “well I don’t think people would vote for her, because she’s a woman” or similar more realistic thoughts that, through FPTP, have a negative impact on candidates that may be perceived to be “losers” or “unlikely to be winners”, an impact that is removed completely by AV.”

Lee raises two points in there:
1. FPTP is biased against “losers”, “unelectable” because they are female or black in a white men’s town, or because they present policies that are ostensibly unpopular whilst being rational. I think that it is fair to say that FPTP discriminates against perceived losers and can stifle political debate even before candidates are selected. Under FPTP, it is essential to pick candidates who are not “losers”.

2. Discrimination against “Losers” is completely removed by AV or STV. I wouldn’t go that far, but agree that the system might help. But to win, any candidate has to stay in the race and get through the knockout stages.

Quan won because she ran a very nasty campaign, with mot of her money spent of negative campaign hit pieces.

You can see them here:

http://tinyurl.com/quan-RCV-Hit-Pieces

Perata stayed above board, not spending a dime on negative campaigning, since AV was supported to stop mud slinging.

It was too late, Quan began in the mud, and stayed in the mud. Negative Campaigning has proven to work with AV. All you have to do is look at their literature to see the difference in campaigns. Perata ran a clean campaign (much to his dismay), Quan got nasty right away.

@Charlieman Is that why the AV election for Labour Leader produced so many female and black candidates who were taken seriously from the start to the end of the campaign, then?

The penultimate paragraph of this article is a particularly impressive string of cliches and vacuous terminology:

“AV is a more progressive system that could shake up our institutions and help make way for real improvements to women’s representation. On 5th May we have the once in a lifetime opportunity to move away from the out-dated system of First Past the Post.”

“progressive”, “shake up our institutions”, “once in a life time opportunity”, “outdated”

19. Charlieman

@17 oldpolitics: “Is that why the AV election for Labour Leader produced so many female and black candidates who were taken seriously from the start to the end of the campaign, then?”

Thanks for asking but I am unsure what you mean.

I’m not a Labour party member or supporter, so I don’t know whether Diane Abbot was the only non-white, non-male MP who sought the job.

She was.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    AV: What could it mean for women? http://bit.ly/hmO1tI

  2. Ellie Cumbo

    Blogged @libcon: AV – what could it mean for women? http://bit.ly/fdcZg3

  3. Thomas Moyser

    Most interesting AV article I've read so far RT: @libcon AV – What could it mean for women? http://bit.ly/hmO1tI

  4. Duncan Stott

    AV: What could it mean for women? http://t.co/izpRjig via @libcon <<< no doubt @MrHarryCole will be blubbering about sexism in a second.

  5. Daniel Pitt

    AV: What could it mean for women? http://bit.ly/hmO1tI #Yes2AV via @libcon

  6. Jane Ayres

    RT @libcon AV: What could it mean for women? http://bit.ly/hmO1tI < not been much discussed as far as I'm aware…





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