ERS bodges by numbers

As a child I learnt to paint by numbers, the Electoral Reform Society appears to have bodged by numbers.

As some of you may know that I have been helping with the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign in Northern Ireland. We have an event this Saturday in Enniskillen where we are planning to have a sample of voters to ‘re-run the Westminster election in Fermanagh & South Tyrone’. In order to prepare the ballot papers for Saturday, I went to the Electoral Reform Society‘s website to find out what they would recommend a ballot paper to look like when using AV.

The below is what I found…

Now, as someone who rarely votes using a system which is not preferential, I know that it is more usual, certainly in Northern Ireland, for the preferences to be marked on the left hand side – it is also not usual for numbers to be used next to the names.

Having numbers there could confuse voters into thinking that they would put the number that is marked beside the name in the box. It would be more sensible to use the picture as used in the guide on STV in NI which is shown below

No numbers on this ballot paper except the ones placed there by voters.

I know that this is the case with NI Assembly elections and I am sure that the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland could confirm that it is also the case for elections to Northern Irish District Councils.

The ERS argues that:

  • Just as before, one candidate is elected for each constituency. The ‘constituency link’ is preserved.
  • The look of the ballot paper remains unchanged.

I do not think that the change in how a ballot paper is laid out is a serious concern for voters in the Referendum on May 5th.

However, it is important for all concerned to use what is currently in use throughout those parts of the United Kingdom that already have STV or AV.

  • Under FPTP voters are asked to back just one candidate by marking an ‘X’.
  • With AV you can put a ‘1’ by your favourite candidate and a ‘2’ by your second choice, and so on.
  • You don’t have to rank any candidate you don’t want to. You’re free to back as many or as few candidates as you like.
  • If you just want to back one candidate you can. Just mark an ‘X’ or a ‘1’ by your favourite.

from What is AV?, p.4

Too many people in England are making assumptions about what is likely to happen if the Alternative Vote is adopted for Westminster elections. Unfortunately, these people have precious little experience of how AV/STV works in practice in the rest of the Kingdom. It would be helpful to the cause if they would consult with some of us before they start.

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