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Study Notes

Alternative Vote System (AVS)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

This is a MAJORITARIAN system, because the winner is supposed to get a majority of votes cast. It is also a preferential system because the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.

Rather than an X by one candidate as in First-Past-the-Post, the voter puts a ‘1’ by their first choice, a ‘2’ by their second choice, and so on until they either run out of candidates or no longer want to express any preferences.

Should a candidate gain more than half the votes as first preferences, they are elected outright. If not, the candidate who lost the first round, in that they gained the least first preferences, and their votes move to the candidates who are marked as second preferences on their ballot papers. This process continues until one candidate has half of the votes, and so is elected.

Alternative vote is used in a variety of different contests, including the Labour Party leadership elections, the Australian House of Representative elections, and even votes for the Academy Award (Oscar) for best picture!.

An example of Alternative Vote in action comes from the constituency of Melbourne Ports during the 2001 Australian House of Representatives election. Beck was eliminated first, then those who voted for him have their 2nd choice votes allocated. Then Chipp was eliminated – those who voted for him have their 2nd choice (or maybe 3rd) votes allocated (mostly to Kavanagh). Kavanagh then eliminated – those who voted for her have their 2nd (or maybe 3rd or 4th) choice votes allocated – mostly to Danby – who thus got elected over McLorinan.

The idea is that each voter has at least one vote than counts. It may be their 5th or 6th preference, but at least one vote counts, which means there are far fewer wasted votes under Alternative Vote than under First-past-the-post, and candidates are encouraged to be more civil to each other, as they value their opponents’ second, third and fourth choice votes.

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