First Past The Post or Alternative Vote? What you Need To Know

In the United Kingdom, we currently use a system of voting called First Past The Post (FPTP). The UK Government is committed to holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), which is another process of voting in Members of Parliament. In Scotland, this referendum coincides with the Scottish Parliament Election on 5th May.

I receive many questions about the voting system every day. Although I should not really be blogging until after the election (I will remain neutral), I am going to do it anyway – partly because I am a rebel but more importantly, because I think that people need to know all the facts before they can make a sound judgement either in support, or against changing the process for electing representatives.

 Let me be clear: I am not supporting the AV nor am I saying that it is wrong for the United Kingdom. That decision, is entirely yours to make. 

Here are the facts that you need to know. I’ve tried to keep it simple. If you want to know more, then visit The Electoral Reform Society.

What is First Past The Post?

What is the Alternative Vote?

FTTP is the system currently used to elect members of the House of Commons and it is renowned for its simplicity. 

Voting takes place in single-member constituencies.

To vote, one simply puts a ‘X’ in a box next to the preferred candidate.

The candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins and all other votes count for nothing.

It is used to elect representatives for single-member constituencies, except that rather than simply marking one solitary ‘X’ on the ballot paper (which is what we currently do), the voter has the chance to rank the candidates on offer. 

Instead, you would put a ‘1’ by your first-preference candidate, and can continue, if you wish, to put a ‘2’ by your second-preference, and so on, until you don’t care anymore or you run out of names.

If a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes (more people put them as number 1 than all the rest combined), then they are elected.

If no candidate gains a majority on first preference, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.

What does it actually mean?

What does it actually mean?

It’s simple to understand and thus doesn’t cost much to administer.

It doesn’t take very long to count all the votes and work out who’s won, meaning results can be declared a handful of hours after polls close.

The voter can clearly express a view on which party they think should form the next government.

It tends to produce a two-party system which in turn tends to produce single-party governments, which don’t have to rely on support from other parties to pass legislation, (although in the last General Election this did result in the formation of a Coalition Government).

There is a close geographical link between voters and their member of parliament.

Election spending is geared towards only a small portion of the country, keeping costs down.

All MPs would have the support of a majority of their voters.

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

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

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

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).



Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

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