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British hackers: stop voting for lizards; start voting for people today (reprog.wordpress.com)
199 points by MikeTaylor on May 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

Recommended online reading:

Some high-quality discussion of this from Tim Gowers (mathematician, Fields Medal winner, very smart chap): http://gowers.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/is-av-better-than-fpt... http://gowers.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/av-vs-fptp-a-suppleme... http://gowers.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/av-vs-fptp-the-shorte... (if you're only going to read one -- and I wouldn't blame you, because they're very long -- read the last one).

Some nice graphics illustrating some pathologies with AV: http://zesty.ca/voting/sim/ (note: http://zesty.ca/ is full of interesting things).

Anti-AV material by an advocate of range voting (note: he dislikes plurality voting, aka first-past-the-post, even more): http://rangevoting.org/IrvPathologySurvey.html

Lots of assumtions I didn't quite grasp. What is the distribution of voters? Some uniform space? The voters are rarely distributed that way. So I don't know what I learn from those graphics.

Each point in the image corresponds to an election with the center of opinion located at that point. For every point, we simulate an entire election by scattering 200000 voters in a normal distribution around that point and collecting ballots from all of the voters; then we colour the point to indicate the winner.

So, still confused. How is the voter ballot simulated? From a point on a normal distribution? How does that translate to their vote? Especially with some of the esoteric schemes - is their any attempt to distribute the voters' comprehension of the candidate position? Or is that folded into the voter position in the distribution? What is the width of the distribution?

Each point in the 2D space represents a person's position on two issues, one for each axis. The only independent inputs are the candidates' positions. Different voting methods have different ballots, but the idea is pretty much the same: the voters rank the candidates by proximity. So the voter would say "My first choice is the candidate closest to me, my second favorite is the next-closest, and the last one is my least favorite." So the various algorithms take those votes and choose a winner for the election.

It's described under the 'simulation method' heading. Unless you have a reason to suggest otherwise, it's reasonable to assume voters' preferences follow a normal distribution.

Voters get polarized. In fact that's what All the candidates try to do. Are any elections normal?

You are implying that there are no moderate (or 'swing') voters, which is foolish when the big parties actively reach out for these people.

Instead, issues get polarised. Both parties and candidates have several different issues, so voters' actual preferences depend on which issues are important to them.

You also get tribal voters ("My family has always voted conservative") who are unlikely to care about the issues in any election, but these cancel each other out somewhat in a plurality or AV/IRV vote.

Nevertheless, I hope we can agree that accurately modelling voting habits is complicated, not simple.

(I voted "Yes" at 8am.)

If I didn't have any views on which system is better, I would have been pursuaded to vote Yes by the "Vote No" adverts, such as http://i.imgur.com/yCyLv.jpg

Admitedly, the campaign for "Vote Yes" has frankly been terrible as well, but in a way that makes you think they don't have a clue about marketing, rather than a way that makes you want to strangle whoever came up with the adverts.

I think the yes campaign must go down as one of the worst I've ever seen. The big budget media campaign was based around the 'Make Your MP Work Harder' campaign.

That's such a vague idea to base a campaign around, especially in light of the attack tactics the No campaign were using.

This is typical of Yes campaigns for vote reform in Canada as well (at the provincial level). They tend to be poorly funded, and afraid to tackle it head on out of fear of scaring people away (might be true). And the No campaigns tend to be pure fearmongering and misdirection, but well funded. There are sometimes allegations that the Yes campaigns are sabotaged by No supporters working for the Yes campaign (rumour level allegation).

This morning I ran into a No campaigner leafleting at Camden Tube station. When he tried handing me a leaflet, I informed him that I had just voted Yes.

As I walked away, he shouted that I must be "LibDem scum".

To give him at least some credit, that's a pretty good insult now days!

That actually comes as a bit of a suprise to me, in my head (and in my limited experiences), the kind of person who volunteers to promote a political campaign in the UK isn't normally the type of person who would get particularly aggressive. Admitedly my personal experiences are based in a fairly middle class area of Oxford, so perhaps not representative.

What? He's insulted someone for having differing political views in a democracy. He sounds like a moron and the majority of people I know on every side of the political spectrum would agree.

Oh yeah, I completely agree with you - the first line of my reply was just a cheap joke about how much the LibDems have bent to tory policies since the general election, I certainly wasn't supporting what that campaigner did.

Having said I completely agree with you, I would have no problem insulting a BNP/UKIP supporter, and in some cases people who are right wing but less so (such as being a more-than-average right wing tory supporter), but I wouldn't use a straight-up insult such as "bloody tory supporter", would do my best to insult by making a point on some subject and winning (in my view) the argument.

Actually, to back peddle once more, frankly I'd have no problem just being rude to someone for the fact that they are a BNP supporter.

I would have been pursuaded to vote Yes by the "Vote No" adverts, such as http://i.imgur.com/yCyLv.jpg*

That's a pretty dumb ad. I was indeed wondering what the best argument of the "No" campaign would be, and if that's it then that's not much of a campaign.

Still, I gotta wonder -- have they really* budgeted two hundred and fifty million pounds for a new voting system, or is this a made-up number? Because where the hell does that money go?

Rather than wording myself, here's a quote from the BBC's FAQ:

"The No campaign has said the poll will cost about £90m to stage and that an extra £156m will be incurred in switching to AV. The Yes campaign has accused its rivals of "lies", saying the claims are largely based on the alleged cost of introducing electronic counting machines and that these are not required for AV elections. The government has said holding the referendum on the same day as other elections around the UK will save about £17m."

I can't stand the Yes campaign. I really, really can't. The smug superiority of it all, the assumption that if you vote no you must be mentally ill and the inability to even debate. To be fair I've had a lot of exposure to people involved in the Yes campaign. I'm not someone who likes being patronised by a hive mind and that's exactly how the Yes campaign comes across.

On the logic of the campaign, giving the options available one should vote Yes, weighing everything up. However it will make no difference to me as my constituency is a safe tory seat, even with all the simulations.

Bear in mind that Nick Clegg opposed AV in the run up to the elections and was pushing for PR and you begin to see what this is. This isn't genuine electoral reform, this is tinkering around the edges. Whatever you vote for this is all you get. You're not pushing further towards a fairer system, you're choosing between two options laid out for you by people who've run the numbers and decided for you. Regardless of the outcome, all the politicians will say, "Well it's settled, the people have spoken", pat each other on the back and go back to their day jobs.

We haven't had a referendum since 1975. We won't get another one on voting for a long time. I'll vote Yes, but only because I know I won't see another chance to change things in my lifetime.

iuguy, a few things. Most important I really don't believe that "it will make no difference to me as my constituency is a safe tory seat, even with all the simulations." Even if it doesn't change who actually wins, implementing AV can send a clear message to your incumbent by (for example) showing that 25% of the constituents actually want the Green candidate to win (rather than just the 5% who actually voted for her under FPTP, knowing their vote would be wasted). That seems important to me -- it changes the slope of the playing field.

For the same reason, I am not skeptical enough to accept that "this isn't genuine electoral reform, this is tinkering around the edges". AV would make a HUGE difference to me, for the simple reason that it would relieve me of the responsibility to lie when I vote (i.e. claiming that I want the winner to be someone who is actually my second or third choice).

And for those who actually want PR: we are MUCH more likely to get it in our lifetimes if AV wins this referendum than if it loses; in the latter case, the incumbents really will all say "so that's all right then -- everyone likes how we do it now". Which is so very not true that it makes my guts hurt just to type it.

So even if you think AV is only a small step (and for the record I think it's a big one), please vote for it. It is (among other things) a stepping stone to a more comprehensive referendum on voting systems, similar to the one they had in New Zealand -- see http://www.fastchicken.co.nz/2011/05/05/the-uk-gets-to-decid...

AV, or IRV (Instant Runoff Voting), is arguably the worst form of preferential voting in existence. Take this example of IRV totals for four candidates ordered by preference:

30% a; b; c; d

35% c; b; d; a

20% d; b; a; c

15% b; d; c; a

Given the voting breakdown, most people would agree that candidate b should win, because no candidate got a majority of first preference votes and b got a sweeping majority of second preference votes. However, under IRV, b is eliminated immediately, because b received the fewest first preference votes.

tr;dr: IRV is terrible, and has a history of being adopted in states and cities in the US only to be abolished not long after, because of the bad electoral outcomes it produces. If you're going to pick a preferential voting system, it ought to be one that at the very least preserves the Condorcet winner; IRV is not that system.

Faced with a decision between:

1. The system that doesn't take alternative preferences into account (FPTP);

2. The system that does (AV),

which would you pick? AV isn't the perfect preferential voting system, but it's our only hope of a transition to any form of preferential voting right now, which opens the door for refinement later instead of closing the debate for another 20 years.

IRV is substantially better than FPTP.

The choice today is a FPTP choice: the alternatives are A and B, not some mythical third choice that you just invented. Voters in the UK should vote for the best choice of those available, which is clearly IRV.

Even your statement is simply silly. You're assuming that a voting system ought not eliminate a candidate when he was the least favorite of the voters, and you proceed from there to bash IRV. Big assumption much?

In the example given, "a" seems the least favorite, unless you ignore all preferences except the "first choice" preference. However, voting systems that take into account second and third choices (or more) cannot be perfect, since groups do not really have preferences in the same way that individuals do: a group can legitimately prefer every candidate to every other candidate, as Condorcet voting shows.

Unfortunately we haven't been offered a suggestion box, just a choice between AV and FPTP - personally, AV seems like an improvement on FPTP, even if it's not the best possible system overall.

Well if we vote in AV, can we then have an AV referendum next year on voting reform?

"Please rank the following voting systems in order of preference."

Apparently this is how New Zealand selected their voting method (with a qualifying question beforehand, "Do you want to change the system? Y/N").

Very reasonable. So we'll never see it here. ;)

Why are those the only choices?

Why not switch to proportional representation instead, using D'Hondt or Saint-Laguë? Or is there such strong support for the current single-winner system in the UK that noone wants to change the base idea?

Neither of the main political parties (Labour, Conservatives) want to support STV because it will greatly diminish their power in Parliament, therefore there will be no possibility of it being on the agenda either in this Parliament or at any other time in the next twenty years.

As it stands, the "No" campaign merely for AV has, for a number of reasons, managed to convince more than enough people that this is a hatefully undemocratic change to our electoral system - regardless of how tiny an effect it will have on anything - that I can't see STV having a chance for many decades yet.

"It's undemocratic", the rallying cry of anti-progressives in these sorts of situations. The Conservative Party of Canada was calling coalitions undemocratic. (But suspending parliament when coalitions against them are being discussed... apparently not undemocratic.) Conservative supporters were calling voting strategically (voting for whoever had the likeliest chance of lowering the odds of a Conservative majority) "undemocratic".

The only reason we got the referendum at all is because the Conservatives didn't win an outright majority of seats, and so weren't able to form a government after the last election. They had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and the LD's terms for lending their support to a party that they have very little in common with was they they insisted on the AV referendum. The Conservatives grudgingly accepted this, but would never have agreed to a referendum on full PR.

Basically, the entire thing is, sadly, driven by self-interest. The Tories don't want AV because they will probably lose some seats under it; but they DEFINITELY don't want PR, because they (and Labour) definitely would lose seats to the Lib Dems.

... and, lest anyone think that losing seats to the LibDems just means it's the LibDems' self-interest driving their wish to change, look at the comparison of the vote and seat percentages. At the last election, for every LibDem MP elected there were 5 Conservative MPs elected, but for every 2 LibDem voters there were only 3 Conservative voters. Is that really the parliament we asked for?

We need AV not because it's the best forever but because it's our only chance of reform for a generation. I'm voting yes.

I don't disagree. But in the spirit of "the perfect is the enemy of the good" if AV/IRV is an improvement over FPTP (which it seems to be) - then is there any downside (in terms of fairness of outcode) to a 'yes' vote in this referendum?

This is a personal view but I think there is. I think that AV could make the process of voting different/confusing enough for many voters to be turned off of voting or, perhaps, screwing up their ballots. If I agree with only one element of the "No" campaign, it's that enough of the electorate is stupid/ignorant enough to find the change difficult changing the outcome of future elections.

This probably sounds terrible, but if you are too "stupid/ignorant" to write your preferences in order 1-5, are you really competent enough to be voting? I really don't expect there are many people (or any, I mean, really?) who are that stupid - that's just doesn't seem a valid reason to be against it. If you just write "1" instead of an "X", it's exactly as easy as the current system. Could you do it? Can you really think of anyone who couldn't do it? The entire tory party elected Cameron that way, it's not complicated at all. It does seem to be an effective scare tactic, though ;)

To quote Dara O Briain from twitter, "Listen, vote NO, if you're happy to trade lack of representation for a clear result. That's a perfectly fine choice to make. I respect that. But if you vote NO, because it's sounds complicated or you don't like Clegg, or the Irish are in debt, you're an idiot.

In Australia every polling booth has party volunteers handing out How To Vote flyers showing how they recommend you distribute your preferences. So if you like the Greens but don't really know where those two obscure independents fit in to the picture, you'd just follow their guidance on whether to put them at the top or the bottom of the list.

I suspect most Australians probably just follow their preferred candidates preferences.


Allocation of preferences is the mechanism that gives the smaller parties a say in the political process. The Greens (say) might know they have no chance of getting more than a couple of percent of the votes in a giving electorate, but they can do deals with the major parties based on that. e.g. "If renewable energy becomes a campaign promise, we'll direct our supporters to put you as their second preference."

I suspect most Australians probably just follow their preferred candidates preferences

Do they really? I never have, and I've never understood the mindset that would. Maybe I will vote for you, Mr Candidate, but I'm not gonna take your advice on the numbers I stick in everybody else's boxes... especially since those numbers probably indicate whatever deals you've made rather than some actual order of preferability based on competence or ideology. For this reason I've always thought that the whole preference-deal thing was a complete waste of time, but hey, maybe there's a lot of people out there genuinely following the how-to-vote card.

It hardly matters anyway. There's very few electorates with more than two viable candidates, so all that really matters is whether you put "Liberal" before "Labor" or vice versa.

The link says most people just go along party lines.

Even though in many electorates your vote will end up going to Liberal or Labor, the path it takes to get there is super important. That's kinda the point. If you think the environment is a really important issue, go vote Green because typically they'll have worked out a deal with one of majors to get some of their issues addressed.

You like smoking pot and there's a nutty local candidate who'll never be voted in in a million years and who none of the major parties will have bothered to do deals with? He's still worth a vote so that once the election is over the other candidates can see there's some people who consider it an important issue.

The entire beauty of preferential voting is it gives some voice to the other candidates in shaping policies, regardless of who gets in.

Fair enough. The other advantage is that it really does let us know when fringe candidates are fringe. If the nutty independent gets 3% of the vote then he can't say "I woulda got elected if it weren't for this damn two-party system"... we just look at him and say that, yep, he really is on the fringe.

Personally my strategy is to always vote number 1 for someone I'm pretty sure is going to get less than 4% of the vote. Why? Electoral funding rules. The government gives the parties money for their election campaigns based on how many votes they get. Except for folks who get less than 4% of the vote -- they get nothing. So if you vote 1 for a major party you're voting for taxpayer money to be given to political parties (yeech) but if you vote for some minor <4% nutjob then no money gets given on your behalf (hooray!)

Or so I've heard. I've never actually verified that this is true.

I'm also one of the few people who actually fills out every box below the line on the upper-house ballot sheets. A few years ago I think there were two hundred and something candidates, so I just wound up numbering consecutively in pretty spirals and so forth. Then I folded my ballot paper into a hat and wore it across the room to the box. They glared at me.

Perhaps this comes from living in the north, but the people I associated with are less sophisticated than you give them credit for. My wife has next to zero understanding about any of this and is not voting because she has no understanding of the issues involved. Ditto for my parents. And my in-laws.

Assuming that everyone's an intellectual and will research and consider the options and then make an informed choice is both idealistic and unrealistic. Many people have better things to do with their lives than thinking about politics and they're out there doing them. Making the voting process even more complicated is hardly going to compel them to get involved.

Well, that's a bit depressing. :/ But half my family live in the north, and I don't think you give them enough credit :)

Also, you seem to be talking about the decision making process of assessing whether to vote for AV or FPTP, not the not the complexity of voting using an AV system.

I'm not convinced that the AV voting method is too difficult to understand, though. Ranking things in order of preference is not hard for anyone to do. The finer points of the difference in electoral outcomes given different voting statistics might be more sophisticated, but that could be applied to any of the voting systems.

Voting itself though is no more complicated saying "I'll have a pint of Stella. If they don't have Stella, I'll have Fosters."

The No campaign has made the AV system out to be more complicated than it is as a scare tactic to put people off voting for it. That seems to have worked, which is deeply unfortunate, but indicative of political campaigns across the world. Fear and doubt are excellent motivators, and seem to be far more effective than a clear, reasoned and 'intellectual' argument.

Call me an unrealistic idealist, but I would much rather people research and consider the options before making an informed choice. Making a case for FPTP because it encourages more people who are uninformed and unconsidered to vote isn't going to win me over, though :)

However, as I say, the AV voting mechanism really isn't complicated at all - my wife is an early years teacher. Voting under an AV system is so easy that - literally - a five-year-old can understand it. I don't see anyone being put off by it.

Moreover, I think more people will be enthused by i) their ability to vote for the candidate that they believe in, ii) the greater accountability of their elected MPs to engage with their constituents and more accurately reflect their views and iii) their ability to express their opinions in a more meaningful way through the ballot box, that turnouts would be greater, not smaller. Low turnout and voter apathy has a multitude of causes, but the ones that I hear most often are "lack of accountability" and "my vote doesn't count anyway."

The converse view:

Surely people who are so stupid/ignorant that this system would stop them voting, are too stupid/ignorant to be able to vote effectively in any election.

You may argue that it sounds a bit elitist, but personally, I want an electorate capable of making informed choices in the voting booth.

I agree with your last point entirely, but unfortunately it's a politically unacceptable one. Passing some sort of civics exam before having the right to vote would be fine by me.

It's the same justification given for not letting minors vote.

If it's acceptable to de-juris disenfranchise the under-18s on the spurious grounds that they are incapable of voting effectively, surely we can de-facto disenfranchise any adults incapable of operating an AV ballot paper. (which only requires the ability to count up to 1)

An important factor in this electoral system is that you don't have rank all the candidates, just those that you wish to receive your vote. This makes your sample election a trifle unrealistic.

Since everyone voted for everyone in your sample election, everyone would be reasonably happy with the result, regardless of who wins.

Condorcet is also an undesirable property: http://rangevoting.org/FishburnAntiC.html

Condorcet just points out that group preferences are not necessarily consistent. This is a property of group preferences, not merely of some voting systems; the voting systems just allow the inconsistency to be noticed.

In the example I provided there is (intuitively, not with relation to any criterion) a consistent preference among the voters for one candidate over another, but the less-preferred candidate is the Condorcet winner.

So, the simplified version of your example would be each person having two votes that cannot be cast for same person. Top vote getter wins (regardless if it is over 50% or not).

That seems simple enough and easy to explain. Not sure if it would work.

All shortcomings of AV aside, as a Canadian who just watched a majority get in thanks to a combined 6,021 votes in some dozen marginal ridings, let me just say that I'm jealous of this referendum and I wish you the best.

Speaking as an Australian (we have preferential voting): Almost anything is better than first past the post.

I am dual Oz / British. I grew up under AV in NSW, with Senate being full PR.

I voted NO because FPTP seems good enough. I don't miss Australia's monster ballot papers. Most of the theoretical advantages of AV , PR dont happen in practice.

I was in Wentworth an unshakeably Liberal seat, whatever your preference. down the road was Maroubra, unshakeable for Labor.

Who can forget the nightmare concessions all the time that Brian Harradine from TAS used to get because he had Balance of Power in the Senate under PR??

Yes, there will always be safe seats - I think any system where Wentworth wasn't liberal would be suspect.

Your vote is still important in the Senate (as Harradine showed). I'm from South Australia, and we have a independent senator and it's worked out much better than just having senators from the major parties. It means they end up representing the state instead of just voting on party lines.

Yeah, some of the concessions are annoying (especially with Harradine), but in a way that is more democratic than the normal vote-down-party-lines system.

I can't understand why they bother with this one-alternative thing though. If you're gonna mark two preferences, why not mark 'em all?

You can mark as many preferences as you like. Alternative Vote is a misnomer, it's known as Instant Runoff Vote elsewhere, which better describes how it works.

I still don't understand why the referendum is on AV and not PR. Most votes get thrown away because of this silly county-based system. If you live in a county which is heavily weighted towards a particular party, you do not have a meaningful vote.

The Liberal Democrats want (for the most part) PR. There was no way the Conservatives would agree to that in the coalition agreement so this was as good as you they could get.

As the press would say "it's a dirty coalition compromise" which you can read as "it's a pragmatic decision based on the political landscape of the day taking in to account the moral perspective of all involved acting as elected officials"

Some in the UK hold the opinion that the Liberal Democrats capitulated too easily to the Conservatives during the negotiation process that led to the formation of our current government. Whilst they only have a relatively small number of MPs they still hold the balance of power and could perhaps have held out for PR. Their apparent willingness to compromise this and other principles of their party in exchange for a share of power has led to a plummet in their popularity. Their leader has been spat at in the street and had dog poo through his letterbox.

Bear in mind that Labour offered AV with no referendum necessary, but did not have the seats to form a majority with the Lib Dems alone. Had they upped their offer to (a referendum on) PR it would have had the support of the minor parties and likely would've passed; however, all other issues would face severe compromise and difficulty, so being in opposition benefits Labour (a party that doesn't need PR, even if it desires it) in the long-term.

Minority governments do not last very long and with Labour on the wane there was a significant possibility of a subsequent election giving the Conservatives a majority; at best, there would be an opportunity for a Lib-Lab majority. The Liberals' power is often overstated by principled idealists, but for pragmatists it was a good choice: 75% of their manifesto is becoming Government policy, compared to 60% of the Conservative manifesto (http://guildfordlibdems.org.uk/en/article/2011/486213/75-of-...). Of course, the remaining 25% matters a lot more to many people than the 75% they implemented...

It's also important to remember that neither the Lib Dems nor Labour could afford another general election.

Given Labour had 12 years of solid majority government, in which time they had a mandate from the electorate for electoral reform (manifesto promise). And given the No camp has more Labour MPs than the Yes.

I feel you cannot state that Labour in any way desires electoral reform.

In Ireland (both Ireland and Northern Ireland), voting is done by Single Transferable Vote (STV). It's an interesting system that gets closer to proportional representation while still meaning that you're voting for candidates. Basically, you have multi-seat constituencies. So, you live in Place X and there are, say, 12 people running for 3 positions. You rank the candidates in order of your preference (like AV). Then you have a point that the candidates have to pass - the number of votes divided by the number of seats + 1 (#votes/(seats in constituency + 1); hope that disambiguates my language). Votes get redistributed somewhat like AV. It's a tad hard for me to explain since it seems a bit intuitively obvious to me. Wikipedia has an example that does a decent job: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote#An_exa.... As you see, excess votes get redistributed from candidates who got past the quota without any transfers to the second choice candidates (in proportion to the second choices of people who voted that person as their first choice). Then you see if anyone has reached the quota and if one or more have, any excess votes they received are distributed to their next highest choice; if no one has then the person with the least votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed and you continue on.

It doesn't exactly get you proportional representation, but it gets closer than AV or FPTP while still allowing you to vote for individual people rather than party lists and it allows you to legitimately have representatives for your region while maintaining decent proportionality. I really think it's a nice system. I like the idea of having regional representation - so that you have your (Congresspeople|TDs|MPs). I like the idea of being able to vote for minority parties. I like the idea of those minority parties being able to get close to proportional representation. STV seems like a nice compromise there. You get to have your representatives for your area bringing local views, you get to vote for people, and you get closer to proportional representation than AV and FPTP.


udp, some people prefer PR over AV (for the record, I prefer AV because it keeps the one-representative-per-constituency link), but since PR is not on the table, voting for AV is the way to go. (Or voting to keep British politics the way it is, of course.)

The "one-representative-per-constituency" link doesn't mean much to those of us who end up getting "represented" by a parliament where none of the elected MP's have views remotely like our own because our views are uncommon enough in every constituency. That's what gets me about this debate: Ultimately it is about whether or not you keep disenfranchising those who do not agree with the larger parties.

AV will help somewhat in the long term, as people are more free to vote for the smaller parties without quite the same risk of losing seats for the lesser evil of the large parties, but it will still leave a substantial number of people without any meaningful representation.

I'm originally from Norway, and I much prefer the Norwegian system: PR with multi-seat constituencies where each constituency is a reasonably small geographical region, combined with a small number of seats that are allocated in order to more closely approximate the countrywide vote totals amongst the parties that got more than 4% of the vote (personally I think the 4% limit ought to go too).

It maintains a regional link, while at the same time getting a far more accurate representation of how people vote.

I support AV over FPTP because it will force the larger parties to be somewhat more mindful of other voters and because it may allow some opposition parties to grow faster because of less tactical voting, but whatever the result, I will still be without anyone representing my interests.

Just for the record, it is possible to force one-or-more-representatives-per-constituency on PR.

Germany, for example, has a (pretty complicated) voting system that insures that every constituency has one representative (that's half of the parliament, the other half has, technically speaking, no constituency but they are obviously still from somewhere).

Everyone gets two votes, one for a representative from the constituency (whoever gets the most votes wins and will definitely be in parliament), and, more importantly, a second vote which determines the proportions of the parties in parliament. (Seats that parties cannot fill with directly elected representatives are filled from the party list.)

That second vote decides about the government (proportionally!), the first makes sure that every constituency has someone in parliament they can write letters.

This voting system is called mixed member proportional representation and here is the link to its Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_member_proportional_repre...

The German system sounds good. But the UK Conservative Party's argument against simple AV has been "it's too complicated for people to understand". Trying to get people to vote for something that genuinely IS a bit complicated would be a complete non-starter at this point.

Anyway, right now it's AV or Continue As You Were. That's the choice we Brits have to make TODAY, and I do hope that any of you reading this will make sure that you do vote.

The Tory stance seems ridiculous to me (as an outsider) considering that the UK's devolved assembly elections use PR-STV or other similarly "complicated" systems. FWIW we use PR-STV in Ireland and are currently going through a debate about conceivably switching to a "list" system, or possibly a hybrid list system tempered as they do in Germany.

It IS ridiculous. But people have been TOLD that AV is too complicated for their simple little minds, and too many of them seem to have accepted this statement uncritically. It breaks my heart.

Unless it's something they care about (and not everyone cares about voting reform!), being told "Don't worry about it, it's too hard to explain" is often met with "Oh, okay."

The trick is to get people to care about it so they become curious and reject the assertions of "it's too hard". The Yes campaign attempted this initially but did a poor job, in this case it turns out much easier to explain the thing than to pose half-truth arguments why people should care!

Ultimately I suspect everyone knows that "it's too complicated" is a fake argument. The real reason that Tories don't want PR is that it will spell an end to proper Tory governments. Meanwhile, the real reason that Labour doesn't want PR is that it will spell an end to proper Labour governments. The only folks who are really keen on PR are the Lib Dems, whose power it would massively increase.

And ultimately, the population follows the parties -- unless you are a LibDem supporter you probably don't especially want to see the LibDems holding the balance of power in every parliament for the next fifty years.

The German system can be presented more simply. First, here are your local candidates. Which one do you want? Second, here are the global parties. Which one do you want? That's pretty simple.

I agree. Here is the ballot: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7e/Bun...

Voters have two votes: one on the left and one on the right. "Hier 1 Stimme" means "Here 1 vote". It is still just an X in a circle but twice instead of once. Most people when shown this grasp it immediately.

A similar Scottish ballot is on the left here: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures...

We have two elections in Scotland today - the referendum and the elections to the Scottish Parliament. There are two ballot papers for the latter - one for a constituency and another for a region. As far as I could tell (I lost count) the regional ballot paper we had here had an amazing number of parties/candidates - what looked like 4 different breeds of socialists (excluding Labour, of course) and a similar number of liberals of varying types with a group of independents making up the tail end (literally).

If that epic ballot paper isn't confusing then I don't know what is!

I have to disagree. It's a list of options, albeit taller than a sheet of A4. Instructions: put a cross next to your choice.

If that ballot paper is confusing then you shouldn't be allowed to vote.

That's what I meant - nobody gets confused with what we have at the moment even though the ballot papers are huge and the regional seats are selected using PR.

Well, OK. It's two 'X' ballots compared to one 1..n ballot. You could argue each way which is more complicated. And I agree that neither is sufficiently complicated to disqualify it.

What I would say is that the mechanics of AV are more (pseudo?)non-deterministic than the Scottish Parliament system of PR. With PR - seats mirror votes more or less. With AV, nobody really seems to know how things will turn out, and even less representative massive majorities can occur. So in a way AV is more complicated in that sense.

I'm still wondering why I voted for it to be honest.

A PR system maintaining one representative per constituency is already in use in the United Kingdom - in both Scotland and Wales.

The local office of the Yes campaign is just across the corridor from us. Bigup.

Vote, people. Doesn't matter who/what it's for. Spoil your ballot if you have to. Just make your voice heard.

No. To paraphrase Dijkstra, voting is to democracy as telescopes are to astronomy.

It DOES matter who/what you vote for. And if you don't believe that, why would you believe that doing anything at all with your ballot counts as making your voice heard?

Democracy is about participation. Not campaigning, participation. You need to make your voice heard at all times, not just at elections (frankly, elections are probably the least effective time to make your voice heard). Be informed about the issues, challenge your assumptions and debate your opinions (preferably with people you disagree with). If you can't or won't do those things, you don't live in a democracy, you live in an oligarchy that happens to mutate roughly every decade.

Obviously I don't believe that it doesnt matter who you vote for, what I was trying to say was that I'd rather have someone vote in a way that I disagree with, than not vote at all.

It matters who you vote for, but it doesn't matter to me.

I'm trying to make it clear that I'm not advocating voting in an attempt to advance my own agenda, but rather out of a simple desire for people to make use of their rights as citizens of a democracy.

Notice that I also advocated ballot spoiling as an alternative to casting a vote for any of the choices presented. If you really can't bring yourself to vote for any of the parties, and I certainly wouldn't blame you there, at least go down to the polling station and write "YOU ARE ALL BASTARDS" across the ballot in your own blood or something. That way, you still show up in the turnout figures, avoiding the false impression of voter apathy.

And yes, I definitely agree that voting is probably the least important part of democratic participation, although a lot of the other parts are becoming increasingly frustrated around here...

Somewhat strange to be advocating that people should vote for anything, when one of the big issues at stake is a more representative voting system that reduces (but does not eliminate) the chance that your vote will be wasted and have no impact whatsoever.

I've long felt that the popularity of this kind of encouragement to vote, as if it was a civic duty, regardless of how broken the system was, has held back reform of the system.

So vote Yes on AV, vote in scottish elections with partial-PR and feel free not to vote in any election where your vote is not going to count and explain why at great and boring length to anyone who tells you that you have to vote or you have no right to complain etc.

Votes are rarely actually "wasted", even in FPTP, and people really need to come to a better understanding of that fact because you get the "smartest" people incorrectly thinking their vote is wasted and thus cutting themselves out of the voting pool.

There is a huge difference between 50.1% A, 49.9% B and 85% A, 15% B. One election produces a politician constantly swinging to the center and watching his back for the next election, the other produces one that acts freely on his beliefs. There is a huge difference between 30% A, 40% B, 30% third-party and 10% A, 89% B, and 1% third-party. One clearly tells the dominant A and B parties that the third-party has tapped into something the voters care deeply about but they've failed to serve, and generally at least one, if not both, of the dominant parties will scramble to serve that demographic. The other says that the vast bulk of people are at least mostly satisfied with the choices (which is all you ever can have). It is this constant scrambling to serve dissatisfied third-party voters that creates the two dominant parties in the first place, not some sort of mega-conspiracy.

Even in FPTP, in an iterated voting situation (which is what we have), third party votes in an otherwise uncontested election aren't wasted, they're probably louder on a per-vote basis than the rest of the horde. If you find yourself nearly alone voting Green/Libertarian/Constitution/whatever, that's because most people are not so dissatisfied that they have to vote third party. You're a fringe vote. (So am I.) But it isn't "wasted".

Please note I am only defending my position that votes are not "wasted" in FPTP. I am not defending the proposition that FPTP is optimal. There may be better systems. Most, if not all, voting systems I know of exhibit the property where a vote is never truly "wasted" in an iterated voting situation, so this argument is neither an attack or defense of FPTP since this is not a unique characteristic of any system.

(It is however only one in a pile, by definition of vote. I do fear some people are ultimately complaining that their vote is wasted precisely because we are voting in the first place and not simply taking their opinion as dictatorial writ. There is a certain fundamental dilution-of-voice that you will experience in any voting scheme; arguably, the "big idea" of democracy is precisely that your voice is at least in theory no louder than any other.)

The only people who vote "fringe" in FPTP are people who are so disenfranchised by both major parties that they are interchangeably bad to them, they actually like the one they "know" will win anyway, or alternatively know it's a lost cause, so they take the opportunity to register a protest vote without the risk of changing the actual result to a worse outcome from their perspective.

Everyone else is voting tactically for the lesser of two evils. So not only are votes "wasted" in the sense of being thrown away on parties that have no chance of winning, they're also actively miscounted as support for party A or B, when often they're registering revulsion at the opposite party.

AV isn't perfect but the one thing it does do better than FPTP is allow you to signal your true preference in exactly this manner without that preventing you from expressing which of the major candidates you prefer. It doesn't directly translates your single vote into 1/population worth of representation like PR, because there's only one winner from each region, but it's certainly a reduction in waste and a better reflection of voter desires.

I'm slightly disappointed that the title isn't a reference to the theories of David Icke.

Voted. It only took 5 minutes; there's no excuse not to.

There is. If you can't decide one way or the other. Which is why I've not voted on the issue today. (Though if there were an "abstain" or "unsure" box, I'd have voted for that.)

A spoiled vote is the traditional way of expressing that.

I used to do that, but the problem is spoiled votes are lumped together for reporting purposes, so there's no real way to judge whether people are protesting, finding the ballot form confusing, or whatever.

The ballot form has a 'yes' and a 'no' box on it...

Hi Mike. For once some politics on hacker news that has some relevance to me. I'm still flagging.

Voting systems are interesting algorithms to discuss, but politics is not. Please keep political stuff off hn.

Hi, cturner. The HD guidelines say "Off-Topic: MOST stories about politics" (emphasis added). Votes say that this is one of the ones that is not MOST. Anyway, it'll all be over in less than nine hours, and I'll go back to reviewing programming books from the 1970s and 80s.

Votes say that this is one of the ones that is not MOST.

Naah, the "flag" button exists because offtopic stuff does get voted up despite being offtopic. In the case of political stories (some) people tend to vote things up because they agree with the sentiment rather than due to a dispassionate evaluation of the benefits of the article (see also reddit.com/r/politics).

Voting systems are on-topic, but this is obviously political campaigning.

Actually the AV result isn't due until 8pm tomorrow, so more than thirty hours away. Even the first results from AV aren't expected until after 5pm tomorrow.

corin_, the RESULT isn't due until tomorrow, but the polls close tonight. So nothing I say or do after 10pm will make any difference.

Nine hours!? I'm stacking up the caffeine for Election Night Special... (Which only has devolved results, but still).

if you care about democracy at all — then get out and vote YES TO AV.

Get a grip. If one cares about democracy "at all" then they need to go out and vote Yes to one extremely narrow option that's only, arguably, mildly better than the status quo? This is nothing more than an appeal to emotion.

Mildy better than the status quo is still better than the status quo. Don't fall into the trap of the Status Quo fallacy; vote for your preference about the two options you are given, don't abstain just because you're waiting for the 'perfect' option (hint: it doesn't exist).

You misrepresented the call to vote here by trimming the quote down too far. What the original article says is:

"Please: if you’ve ever complained about how our politicians don’t represent us and the people who do represent us can’t get elected; if you’re sick of having to choose between two lizards; if you care about democracy at all — then get out and vote YES TO AV."

So I did make an actual case, rather than just appealing to emotion.

You made a case but wrapped it up with an appeal to which way someone should vote.

Sheepishly voting Yes because someone suggested they might not care about democracy otherwise is not very democratic. If someone cares about democracy, all they need to do is vote full-stop.

I can't remember the last time the UK had a referendum about voting reform, and based on that it's quite tough to figure out when the next one will be if the winning result is "No".

A clear "No to AV" may be interpreted that no voting reform is needed.

There has never been a referendum about voting reform before in the UK (in fact, the only single previous referendum that was nation-wide was more than 35 years ago, and was related to our membership in the EEC).


You misunderstand the meaning of the word "hacker" in this context. If you wish to understand, it is explained in this essay from the founder of this site: http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

This site focuses on interesting and clever use of technology as well as on business, typically with respect to technology start-ups. I have no doubt that there are members of this community who are capable of "hacking" in the sense that you mean, but unlikely to help you. Furthermore, there is probably not a simple piece of software you can just point at what you want and have it "hacked".

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