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All about the Alternative Vote
All about the Alternative Vote, how it works and the pros and cons
Alternative Vote

Alternative Vote, also known as Instant Runoff Voting or Ranked Choice Voting

Where is the Alternative Vote used?
Labour leadership elections

Liberal Democrats leadership elections

By-elections for House of Lords

Elections for the Academy Award for Best Picture

Australian House of Representatives.

Fijian House of Representatives

Irish Presidential elections.

Numerous American City, Mayoral and district elections.


How does the Alternative Vote work?


The Alternative Vote (AV) is a preferential system where the voter has the chance to rank the candidates in order of preference.

The voter puts a '1' by their first choice a '2' by their second choice, and so on, until they no longer wish to express any further preferences or run out of candidates.

Candidates are elected outright if they gain more than half of the first preference votes. If not, the candidate who lost (the one with least first preferences) is eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to the second (or next available) preference marked on the ballot paper. This process continues until one candidate has half of the votes and is elected.

In a UK-wide referendum in 2011 the British public were asked if they wanted to replace First Past the Post (FPTP) with the Alternative Voting system for electing members of parliament. The referendum produced a definitive no vote against AV.



Pros and cons of the Alternative Vote

The case for AV

The arguments against

All MPs would have the support of a majority of their voters. Following the 2010 General Election, two thirds of the MPs elected lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history.

AV is not proportional representation and in certain electoral conditions, such as landslides, can produce a more disproportional result than First Past the Post (FPTP)

It retains the same constituencies, meaning no need to redraw boundaries, and no overt erosion of the constituency-MP link.

In close three-way races the “compromise” candidate could be defeated in the first round even though they may be more broadly acceptable to the electorate than the top two candidates.

It penalises extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.

Lower preferences can potentially throw up a “lowest common denominator” winner without much positive support of their own.

It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn't want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies.

A voting system that allows voters to rank candidates is prone to so-called 'Donkey voting', where voters vote for candidates in the order they appear on the ballot

It reduces the need for tactical voting. Electors can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of wasting their vote.

It reduces the number of “safe seats” where the election result is a forgone conclusion

Further Reading


Other voting systems by type

Proportional Representation
Party List PR
Single Transferable Vote

Mixed Systems 
Additional Member System
Alternative Vote Plus

Majoritarian Systems
Alternative Vote
Block Vote
Borda Count
First Past The Post
Limited Vote
Supplementary Vote
Two-Round System

Recent News
3rd March 2015
The Lord Speaker of the House of Lords proposed an interesting idea in the Telegraph yesterday. In a comment piece for the paper, Baroness Frances D’Souza argues that the upper chamber should be ‘one in, one out’ to stop its further expansion – a sort of ‘stasis through retirement’ approach.   She’s certainly right to note […]
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David Cameron and Nick Clegg were in Wales this morning, announcing further powers to be devolved to the Assembly.   The UK Government is proposing to devolve control over elections to the National Assembly which would see AMs handed power to:   Change the voting system for Assembly and local elections Introduce votes at 16 for Assembly […]
25th February 2015
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