Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fair: Adj....

This article is a longish one (as usual). At the end I've got a simple analogy that demonstrates how AV is fairer than FPTP. Want to skip to the end?

"fair [fair]
adjective, -er, -est, adverb, -er, -est, noun, verb
1. free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice: a fair decision; a fair judge."

"if a situation is fair, everyone is treated equally and in a reasonable way"

"a : marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism"

"1. treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination:"

"treating everyone equally and according to the rules or law"

I can understand why people on the No2AV side get confused with why we, on the Yes side, say AV is fairer. It's not just a buzz word, it's not spin, it's based purely on the actual definition of fairness (a few variations of which I've provided above!)

Basically, a FPTP supporter believes that their system is fair. On one level it is entirely fair, everyone that is registered to vote gets one vote that they can exercise at their leisure (or not at all, it's their choice). If you try and compare too quickly it can easily appear that AV is less fair than this; but if you think this you need to think a little bit longer about what AV actually does.

AV is a series of FPTP elections in "what if scenarios". If you believe that FPTP is fair, because everyone gets a chance to vote once for one person...the exact same thing happens under AV.

Round 1: 10 people vote for A, 7 for B and 3 for C.
Round 2: 11 people vote for A, 9 for B.

Each round is it's own FPTP election, except rather than the "winner" being singled out, it is the much more accurate measure of who the "loser" is.

So that's level 1, every vote is equal and every person has the same opportunity to cast that vote as they wish. AV is equally as fair as FPTP in this regard.

But the question then is how else can we describe FPTP as fair? The opportunity to make a vote is equal, but are the votes themselves equal? They each count the same, so you might presume yes. But the reality is this...

If 40% vote Labour under FPTP, and 35% vote for Tories...there are 25% of all votes cast that are irrelevant. If you took 5% of the Labour vote away, then that 5% would cost Labour the victory. If the Tories had 5% of their support not vote, then those people have had a huge effect in not allowing the Tories a win. If the 25% of others don't turn up...well...the result is the same.

FPTP treats minority views with disdain, and says not only that they might as well not have turned up...but that any further view they have is irrelevant. AV treats these minority sets of voters with more equality, not discriminating against them because they've not cast a vote for one of the top two candidates DESPITE having an opinion on them. It's for this reason that people vote overcome the inbuilt unfairness of not allowing voters to fully express themselves if they need to, unlike those that are part of the largest minorities that (luckily for them) don't need to.

AV, as I've said, is just a series of FPTP elections under one vote. The reason it becomes fairer than FPTP is because it tells those who have lost that their opinion on the remaining candidates still matters.

The question for those that support FPTP, and claim not only that FPTP is fair but that AV is unfair, is this...

If under FPTP there are three candidates running, X, Y and Z, where X has the plurality of votes, yet under AV Y would win because of Z's votes transferring to them, how is this any different (and thus less fair) than if Z had never run in the first place under FPTP, and Z supporters chose to vote for Y anyway?

The irony is this...any claim that AV is less fair than FPTP is to claim that FPTP elections that happen right now are also unfair in their result. But the reality is that the result has allowed every person, in every round, to state their preference in equality with every other has simply done more than FPTP in recognising that voters may have not only an opinion as such as "I like Lib Dem more than any other party", but also "But if Lib Dems weren't there, I'd like Labour before anyone else", and so on.

I know one argument that is going to come up here, and it's about "weighting". I've talked about this erroneous argument before of course, and it has no place in this discussion. Neither system is about how much people care about their vote, it's whether or not they do. FPTP and AV are binary systems, not analogue. We, quite rightly, never walk in and say "I feel I'll give 55% of a vote to this candidate today", it's either 1 vote or no vote. Simple.

In AV, if you're talking about "weighting" and "Someone's second preference counting more than someone's first" then you're getting caught up on an irrelevancy, you're viewing the system from an angle that doesn't actually matter in how it is practiced (or, more likely, you're trolling me...again).

If I have to move my vote to my second preference I am either voting for them or not. By voting for them I am saying I want them to be my MP. I am giving them another "1". I repeat from above, this situation is simply not unfair, and to claim it is unfair is to accept that FPTP is unfair in practice as well.

Disparity of how much each individual "cares" for their vote happens regardless of the system, it is both ignorant and deceitful to try and portray FPTP as a system where this difference in people's own weightings in comparison with each other doesn't exist either.

So this is how AV is more fair, it takes the equality of casting votes that is fair under FPTP, and then adds extra fairness by not discriminating against those that have had the misfortune to not be a part of the voting groups that need not give further than their first preference views; to not play favouritism towards the views alone of the largest two groups of voters without also letting the remaining voters the equal opportunity to have their choice between those two most popular candidates as well.

I'll end with an analogy, and you can decide for yourself which situation is most fair. There is a school class of 20 kids, and they have to decide what school play they're going to perform.

They vote between 3 different plays and the winning play is "The Three Musketeers", winning with 40% of the kids, 8 of them, saying they wanted to do it...beating "Cinderella" on 35% and "Romeo and Juliet" on 25%. All kids had one vote, written on a card in secret and then revealed at the same time to the teacher.

In the first scenario the vote stops there. 8 kids is enough to say what play will be done by all 20.

In the second scenario the teacher asks a different question after this, to those that didn't vote for the Three Musketeers or Cinderella to say which of those two plays they'd prefer. The teacher explains that clearly the most children want to perform either the Three Musketeers, or Cinderella, so it's only fair that the play that they perform is one of those two.

As it happens, those that voted for Romeo and Juliet all change their vote to Cinderella. They don't like the Three Musketeers. Cinderella wins, because 60% of the class want Cinderella more than the Three Musketeers.

So, I ask again...which situation produces the fairest result, and therefore is it really false for us to claim that AV is a fairer system than FPTP?


  1. Isn't the problem that AV *isn't* a series of elections? I'm sure I've seen a few white papers that suggested that a series of elections *would* be the fairest system but wouldn't work for practical reasons... imagine how long that election would take!

  2. It is entirely the same as run off voting if people are voting honestly from the beginning. I still can't quite understand the situation where your preference after the first round would change without new information entering the arena.

    The only time I can see a benefit to people with non-instant run off voting is if they have used the non-instant nature to make a tactical first preference vote, realised their tactic hasn't paid off, so then change who they would have voted for next to try and salvage something from their poor strategy.

  3. The difference is that under AV I can vote against a candidate by voting for all other candidates, and not care about the order in which I do it (E.g. Voter thinks they're all as bad as each other but will vote to keep out the BNP). A series of elections avoids this because you have the one (positive) vote.

  4. In reply to Phil.... AV gives you the chance to make a series of positive votes. Run Off voting also gives you the chance to vote for any candidate you like except the one you don't want, right up to the last round.

    Sorry, but I just can't see the difference between AV (Instant Run Off Voting) and Run Off Voting for the honest (most of us) voter.

  5. Very interesting piece - convincing arguments that AV is fairer than FPTP, something that I did believe in the back of my mind.
    Not enough to change my view point that a change to AV is preferable, as I think that whilst being the fairer of the two systems initially it may lead to problems post-vote, but definitely made me question the "twibbon" on my avatar for a second!

  6. Which problems do you think it might give post-vote?

  7. AV increases the chances of a need for coalition governments, and I think that under this system politicians have more scope to manipulate the voters in their manifesto's and then drop or adapt policies that initially helped them to gain support when they are entering into coalition deals. AV is most probably fairer than FPTP but once votes are cast are the public really getting what they initially voted for?

  8. "AV increases the chances of a need for coalition governments"

    I dispute that on two levels. 1) check out this link...

    2) History (not an accurate measure of the future though) shows AV would more often have increased majorities, making coalitions less likely.

    "and I think that under this system politicians have more scope to manipulate the voters in their manifesto's and then drop or adapt policies that initially helped them to gain support when they are entering into coalition deals"

    Take the coalition aspect out of it, I honestly believe it's a hang-over from the PR scare story days at the beginning of the campaign, and then look at what we have now. Every party said they had no plans to raise VAT, Lib Dems even said that it was regressive to raise it. Yet here we are.

    FPTP means mps have to apply to only two sets of people 1) the core vote, and 2) about 5% of voters that are not settled on one party.

    This to me is a recipe for extreme manipulation of a small group of people with a very small set of fears that can be exploited...then, as has happened (and always does happen, look at Labour manifesto pledges dropped or ignored in the past) under FPTP.

    I guess the question is, do we get what we initially voted for right now? A better question is, isn't it symptomatic of systems whereby we look for majorities to lead us that parties will say whatever they can to get that majority, knowing that they can ignore minority concerns once they're in power...and that neither AV nor FPTP will break out of that particular problem?


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