The following is taken from Michael Wilkes’ site (councillor for Hall Green, Birmingham) posted January 27th, 2011
The Alternative Vote (AV) system for elections is not a true form of proportional representation – that is a debate for another time. But it is a very clear improvement on the existing ‘First Past the Post’ arrangement and well worth enthusiastically supporting in the forthcoming referendum.
AV will make MPs more accountable.
This May, two thirds of MPs got the support of less than 50% of voters – over 100 got less than 40% of the vote in their constituency. This can’t be right. AV will ensure that more MPs will have to work harder to get elected and take fewer voters for granted.
AV will make votes count more.
Under the current system, your vote only really counts if you happen to live in a marginal constituency and vote for a party in first or second place (there are a handful of three-way marginals). If you don’t, your vote won’t affect the outcome either way. Under AV, there will be many more marginal constituencies. AV lets you vote for the party you most want while still giving you a say in the final outcome of the election.
AV will ensure that elections are about what matters to you.
These days, elections are dominated by talk of tactical voting. Election literature is filled with bar charts and dire warnings that if you “vote green you’ll get blue” and so on. By allowing people to vote both with their “heart” (i.e. vote for the candidate they would most like to win) and their “head” (i.e. vote for the candidate they would rather win between the two most popular), AV will ensure that tactical voting becomes a thing of the past and that elections focus on the issues that voters actually care about.
AV will give smaller parties and independent candidates a fighting chance.
By allowing voters to express multiple preferences, smaller parties and independent candidates will no longer lose support due to tactical voting. That means they will have many more opportunities to increase their support without being accused of encouraging people to waste their votes. The bigger parties will be forced to treat the supporters of their rivals with much more respect.
AV is the anti-extremist system.
Because first past the post enables candidates to win with a very small percentage of the vote, extremist parties can flourish despite most people in a constituency or ward opposing them. AV prevents the anti-extremist vote from being divided amongst different parties, and makes it far harder for extremists to win outright.
How does AV work?
With the AV system, your ballot paper will look pretty much the same as it does under first past the post. However, instead of voting for one party with an X, you put a 1 beside the candidate you would most like to win, a 2 beside your second choice, and so on until you run out of preferences.
When it comes to counting the votes, all the 1s are counted first of all. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the 1 s, then the least popular candidate is eliminated and their 2s are counted as votes for the remaining candidates. This process continues (with 3s and 4s counting as more candidates get excluded) until a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.