Alternative vote? We’ve been using it for years!

Campaigning has started in earnest in the run-up to a referendum on whether we should change the country’s voting system from First Past The Post (FPTP) to Alternative Vote (AV).

Now, before you let that last sentence lull you to a fitful sleep, consider this: we here in Doncaster are experts on the subject.

Because we’ve already had elections under a version of AV – Doncaster has used it in the borough’s mayoral elections since 2002.

So we are well placed to see that, in most cases, letting voters rank candidates in order of preference doesn’t really make all that much difference.

Martin Winter would have enjoyed two terms as mayor under FPTP, too, because he enjoyed a comfortable majority of first-choice votes.

Similarly, AV wouldn’t have made a difference in any recent General Elections here – Doncaster seats are too safe.

But we have had one election result swayed decisively by the influence of ‘second-choice’ votes.

In 2009’s mayoral election, Peter Davies was lagging behind independent Mick Maye after all the first-choice votes had been counted.

Adding in the ‘second choice’ votes of the losing candidates changed a 189-vote lead for Maye into a 354-vote victory for Davies.

You could argue a case for either of the two men having a democratic mandate to run the town, and that’s the dilemma facing voters in May’s referendum.

Is it more democratic to stick to the ‘one man, one vote’ principle of FPTP and elect whoever gets the most – even if there are only a handful of votes in it, making a mockery of the term ‘majority’?

Or is it fairer to give supporters of candidates who can’t win the chance to give lukewarm support to someone who can?