Thursday, 24 February 2011

AV: Fun With Numbers

The FPTP gang claim that the counting procedures would be prohibitively expensive under AV, which intuitively is complete bollocks (the real cost is the people updating the electoral register, printing the ballot papers, manning the polling stations, ferrying around the sealed boxes to the final count etc, all the TV and press coverage etc, not the last bit of paper shuffling).

I trust that even the most hardened FPTP supporter is prepared to accept that the system should be geared up to bearing the cost of a 100% turn out? Seeing as there's usually only a 60% or 70% turnout, then as long as the number of votes recounted (however many times) is not too high, the total cost of the initial count and the redistributing would still be less than the cost of counting all the votes were there to be a 100% turnout under FPTP.

OK, so let's assume that at the next General Election, held under AV, people vote in similar proportions to the 2010 General Election; that the median number of preferences indicated by any voter is 2 (so at each elimination stage, half of ballot papers of the lowest-scoring candidate are recounted and half are discarded); and that there is no particular correlation between how people cast their first, second and subsequent preferences.

The simple fact of the matter is that the number of times a ballot paper is picked up and put on a pile is only 28% more than under FPTP, see if you can follow the maths:The nice bit is that instead of 74% of votes being 'wasted', only 62% are 'wasted' (which must be an improvement).

"Aha!" shouts the crowd, "What if people are suitably emboldened at the next election and first preferences are spread far more evenly?"

Doesn't make a big difference. Let's now assume the BNP gets 10% of first preferences and the other five candidates get 18% each, the total number of times a ballot paper is sorted onto a pile is still only 37% more than under FPTP. In this example (assuming the Tory candidate would have edged in) only 68% of votes are 'wasted', which is still an improvement on the 76% that would be 'wasted' under FPTP.To sum up:

Will AV increase the cost of running elections? Nope, not materially.

Will AV change the outcome (in terms of which parties get how many MPs)? Probably not much.

Will AV embolden the smaller parties and add to the gaiety of the nation? Yes of course.

Will AV remind MPs that none of them represents anywhere near a majority of voters? Yes - and that is surely the whole point.


DBC Reed said...

Still can't see how ,if the suddenly very stupid British public (according the FPTP-ers), can be trained to number the candidates on the slip,this can't be the basis for a Borda count which is actually proportional.
AV is neither one thing nor the other,which is what Clegg said before being blinded by power /what power?
Yes I know the count is more complicated but I think those computers you young fellows are always going on about (which have actually ruined our lives) could be made to scan the numbers in a trice

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, firstly Borda isn't proportional either; secondly it sounds very faffy and would lead to the same result 99 times out of 100 as AV (which in turn won't change the results significantly from FPTP); and thirdly Borda is not up for grabs. It's FPTP or AV, and as far as I am concerned anything is better than FPTP.

Mind you, I don't see any harm in selecting 650 people to be MPs from the population at random, just like jury service, that could hardly lead to a more incompetenat and corrupt bunch if idiots that what we have now,

cuffleyburgers said...

I do not agree with you about the desirability of AV - it is an appalling idea, the only countries who have tried ti are abandoning it.

It is tinkering for the sake of tinkering (and for sewing together a coalition between a bunch of cynical shysters who are not fit to be in charge of the country).

Mark Wadsworth said...

CB, congratulations for the least constructive comment of all time.

You start with an insubstantiated claim; then follow it up with an outright lie; and make no effort to explain why you think that FPTP is better (or why FPTP does not sew together a coalition between shysters etc, remembering that Lib Lab and Con are virtually identical) or to put forward your preferred alternative.

KenS said...

You appear (second paragraph)to be comparing the cost of 100% turnout under FPTP with 70% turnout under AV, to conclude that AV is cheaper! Fun with numbers indeed.

If AV will not alter the outcome of an election, and if, as I suspect, very few non politicians give a toss about the issue of FPTP versus AV, are there not rather more important things politicians could be spending their time on?

Mark Wadsworth said...

KenS: "You appear (second paragraph)to be comparing the cost of 100% turnout under FPTP with 70% turnout under AV, to conclude that AV is cheaper! Fun with numbers indeed."

Did I say that an AV count would be cheaper than an FPTP count on the same turnout? Nope. Did I say that an AV count on a 70% turnout would cost much the same as an FPTP count on a 100% turnout? Yes. Ergo, the marginal extra cost is not an issue.

"are there not rather more important things politicians could be spending their time on?"

Nope. The more they do, the more they mess up.

Deniro said...

The concept of "wasted vote" does not only apply to votes for an unsuccesful candidate. It also applies to votes cast for a succesful candidate over the number of votes required for success, because these extra votes do not add to the party's countrywide total.
Of course that would not apply without the party system, or a random selection of 650 people.

Bayard said...

If we do get AV, watch out for calls to change to elctronic voting systems "because AV is so complicated". Crooked politicians hate manual counting because it's almost impossible to fiddle the results, whereas with electronic voting, it's dead easy.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Den, true. But has nothing to do with the FPTP vs AV debate.

B, they can piss off with their postal votes and electronic votes, it's a recipe for fraud and disaster. Australia has been doing AV with paper for ages and it works fine.

Deniro said...

AV sounds reasonable but the proposal is complicated by the fact that the Gvmt will still be selected on the number of mps , as it is now.

H said...

To be reduced to defending FPTP on the grounds that it's cheap must be among the most unprincipled scraping of the bottom of the empty arguments barrel that we've come across for a long time. Why bother with elections at all? In the current fiscal crisis, we clearly can't afford them. And I guess the same folk will all be arguing for the return of the death penalty on the same grounds.

FPTP is a busted flush and has been every time the third party vote goes over ten percent i.e. every election since 1970. If AV is the only stepping stone to something better, so be it (I'd go for the Irish system myself).

Bayard said...

"And I guess the same folk will all be arguing for the return of the death penalty on the same grounds."

Well, yes, and there's the 0% re-offending rate to consider.

Derek said...

Picking MPs at random from the general population? Now you're talking! I was always disappointed that the House of Lords reform didn't go that way. Disappointed but not surprised of course.

Replacing voting by sortition (to give it its Sunday name) would remove most of the levers that the current parties (and by extension their backers) use to keep MPs in line. We'd finally have representatives instead of the current party delegates.

By comparison AV is a comparatively trivial improvement over FPTP. But definitely an improvement, unlike the execrable "additional member" system with its party-controlled "lists" which, for all its proportionality, puts even more power into the hands of the party managers.