Should we vote for AV? Students have their say

29th April 2011 at 01:00
On Thursday, Britain will decide whether to change its electoral system. Except, that is, for those aged under 18. Yet many young people have strong views - unsurprising for a generation educated in citizenship and encouraged to express its `pupil voice'. Here, two of them set out their views

YES

Laura Durechova, 16 Prendergast-Hilly Fields College, Lewisham, south-east London

It would be ridiculous to use a typewriter to type up this piece, right? Old-fashioned systems just aren't as effective. So why are we still using first past the post to voice our opinions? It's outdated, and frankly it needs to be replaced.

The Alternative Vote is not only a digital upgrade from the current analogue system, but it is also a much fairer system of voting. AV allows a more truthful vote, as tactical voting would no longer be necessary. AV is set up in such a way that even if voters' first and second choices are eliminated, there are still other options and their say in the election isn't over. AV therefore presents the voter with more control.

First past the post has provided politicians with "jobs for life", and in many ways AV is a wake-up call to the more smug and self-satisfied MPs. With AV, politicians would have to work harder to represent their supporters' views, in order to maintain their popularity and stay elected. They would need to do more to ensure that their supporters' voices - your voices - are heard. To put it bluntly, doing "enough" would no longer be an option.

AV makes sure that MPs are pushed to get the best out of politics. With the current system, they are taking the voters for granted. MPs need to understand that just because they have a seat in Parliament doesn't mean they are safe.

AV may seem like a completely new idea; however, it is a tried and tested system. It is used widely by politicians to elect speakers and officials within their parties, so any political party promoting a "No" vote is in fact being disingenuous and hypocritical. They choose to use it themselves as they recognise it is the best way for the majority to be heard.

First past the post has many flaws, not least that MPs can be elected with support from less than one in three voters. That is an appalling figure and such a scenario should not happen. By voting "Yes" in the referendum, you could eliminate such statistics and increase the chances of a fairer government.

Because parties require broader support, AV also reduces the risk that extremist groups would get a seat. Presently, parties such as the BNP stand a chance of winning seats, as they have in council elections. They recognise the danger that AV poses to them, which is why the BNP is backing a "No" vote.

AV is a fairer, more truthful system. Everyone has the right to a true vote. We are not looking to start again - we are looking for an updated version of what has already been. Voters should not be dissuaded from wanting a change that will improve our political system.

NO

Luc Chignell, 16 Carre's Grammar School, Sleaford, Lincolnshire

The campaigns for and against the Alternative Vote system are well under way. This is clear from the entertaining television broadcasts and the celebrity battles, as each campaign tries to gather as much A-list support as possible. However, none of these publicity tricks have been particularly informative, and it would be fair to say that much of the electorate remains rather confused about AV.

I fear Britain could be blindly walking into an undemocratic and unfair system because of the cloud of misconceptions cast by the "Yes to Fairer Votes" campaign. It claims that AV would require MPs to gain the support of 50 per cent of the electorate to be voted in. But this 50 per cent is very often a combination of a candidate's first, second and third- preference votes. If no candidate receives 50 per cent of the first-choice votes, whoever is in last place has their votes redistributed according to their voters' second preferences, and these second-preference votes now carry as much weight as the first-choice votes.

If a majority is still not established then the process continues, sometimes to the point where third and fourth-preference votes are considered equal to first-choice votes. Does AV's 50 per cent majority look so appealing now?

But it is the nature of these other-preference votes that is most concerning. Surely the most crucial feature in an electoral system is that everyone's vote is equal? But AV doesn't do this. It allows certain people's vote to be redistributed while denying the same opportunity to others, leading to inconsistent and unfair results. Whether a candidate comes second or sixth is irrelevant - they have lost. It's unfair that people who have voted for the least popular candidates should be allowed another go at voting.

First past the post is not perfect, but AV is far worse. Under the current system you vote for the candidate you want to win. With AV, if you support a mainstream party it might be more effective to put a number 1 next to a more unpopular candidate and reserve your second-choice vote for the more popular one who you truly support. If your first-choice candidate is eliminated then at least you have your second choice.

AV would be a bad choice for Britain - it is more likely to produce a hung parliament and awkward coalition governments.

So, I urge you to look beyond the game of smoke and mirrors that the "Yes" campaign is playing. I urge you to make an informed decision considering the truth about this system and the implications it has for British democracy.

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