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The Alternative Vote System: counting your preferences [The Fiji Times, 15 May 2006]

17/03/2012

There have been hundreds of advertisements about how to vote- with a tick “above the line”, and numbers (1,2, 3 etc) “below the line”.

But no ads about how differently the preferences are counted.  Even the Elections Office website does not explain that.

Many voters, including party officials, still do not understand that “below the line” votes do NOT follow party preferences, and that votes for their party do not “stick” with the second choice.

Party Preferences: above the line

   All of Party A’s “above the line” votes will move as a “packet” according to the party preferences if Party A is eliminated.  Suppose the preferences are:

Party Preferences

A

B

C

D

E

F

Party A

1

6

3

3

5

2

Party B

5

1

5

2

3

3

Party C

6

5

1

5

2

6

Party D

3

4

6

1

6

5

Party E

4

3

2

6

1

4

Party F

2

2

4

4

4

1

Thus Party A has given itself the first preference, Party F the second, and Party E the third preference.  Any vote above the line for Party A, if Party A is eliminated, will first move to Party F.  If Party F is also eliminated, then Party A’s votes will move to Party D.

Party A’s votes do not “belong” to Party F just because Party F has got the second preference from Party A.

Individual preferences: “below the line”

   However, if voters vote below the line, with numbers, then every single vote has to be recounted every time a candidate is eliminated.

The number “1” can be for the voter’s favourite party.  The “2” can be for any candidate who the voter next prefers.

The “below the line” vote does NOT follow the favourite party’s preferences.

This is where large parties who were unhappy with smaller parties’ preference rankings, could have appealed directly to the voters- to give them the “2” or “3” or any number ahead of their rival party.

The party preferences and deals would all have been rendered useless.

Unfortunately, most political parties have neglected the power of “below the line” votes.

Counting Example

   If all voters were to “vote above the line” the final result would be known in a second, even if there was no winner on the first count.

For example, take the constituency above, with say 15000 votes, all above the line.  To win, a candidate requires 7501 votes.

Suppose the results after the first count were as follows:

1st Count

Party A

500

Party B

2000

Party C

1200

Party D

6000

Party E

4200

Party F

1100

Total

15000

No one has more than 7500 votes.  So the lowest vote getter, Party A is eliminated and the 500 votes moved to Party A’s second preference, which from the preference table above, is Party F (which now has 1600 votes as below).

2nd Count

Total

Party A

500

 

Party B

2000

2000

Party C

1200

1200

Party D

6000

6000

Party E

4200

4200

Party F

1100

500

1600

Now Party C (with 1200 votes) has to be eliminated.  Its second preference votes go to Party E who now has a total of 5400 (as below).

3rd Count

Total

Party A

500

Party B

2000

2000

Party C

1200

Party D

6000

6000

Party E

4200

1200

5400

Party F

1100

500

1600

There is still no winner.  So Party F (with a total of 1600 votes) now has to be eliminated.

But note there are now two “packets” of votes to transfer:

Party F’s original 1100 votes which would have gone on second preference to Party A, but Party A is gone, so on third preference, the 1100 votes go to Party B(check the preference table).

The second packet consists of 500 votes which originally came from Party A, which now go on A’s third preference to Party D (which now totals 6500).

4th Count

Total

Party A

500

Party B

2000

1100

3100

Party C

1200

Party D

6000

500

6500

Party E

4200

1200

5400

Party F

1100

500

But there is still no winner.  So Party B now has to be eliminated, and again there are now two packets of votes to move.

B’s original 2000 votes would have gone on second preference to Party F, but F is gone: so on B’s third preference goes to Party E.

The second packet representing Party F’s original 1100 votes now move on their fourth preference to Party E as well.

5th Count

Total

Party A

500

Party B

2000

1100

Party C

1200

Party D

6000

500

6500

Party E

4200

1200

2000

1100

8500

Party F

1100

500

Party E now has a total of 8500 and is declared the winner.

Party D was leading on the first count, but could not win because it could not reach 50% of the total votes, even with Party A’s 500 preference votes.   And Parties B, C and F ranked Party E above Party D.  That made the difference.

Below the Line votes

   The above example is simple  because it was assumed that all the votes were above the line.

But if any of the eliminated parties’ votes were “below the line”, each vote would have to be looked at separately to see where the voter had put the number “2”, then the number
3”, and then “4” etc.

The below the line votes would not have followed the party preferences.

And if just 400 voters each from parties B, C and F had voted below the line and given Party D their number “2” (after giving their own party the number “1”), Party D may well have won.

But that would have required Party D to appeal directly to voters for second preferences below the line.

No party has followed this strategy.

A future challenge

   It has been abundantly clear for three elections now, that the current voting system is far too complicated forFiji, with too many weaknesses.

It increases the acrimony and tension amongst the political parties and voters, while marginalizing the smaller parties.

It will be a major challenge forFijito change this undesirable electoral system, especially when the parties who dominate parliament after the elections, will probably have benefited from the very flawed system.

Which is why the major parties have made no effort over the last seven years to change the electoral system, despite all the complaints.

Voters will no doubt continue to suffer, and complain- but only at election time.  They will then stay quiet for another five years.  Until the next election.

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