Leading article: Just say Yes to voting reform

As the polls point to substantial lead for No campaign, there are still 24 hours left to change the system

Wednesday 04 May 2011 00:00
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Tomorrow the British public will have their opportunity to vote in the first nationwide referendum in more than three decades. The subject of this poll is of fundamental importance to a democracy. It concerns how we elect our political representatives. The question that will be put is whether Britain should stick with the first-past-the-post voting system, or whether we should switch to the alternative vote.

Since 2005 this newspaper has campaigned for electoral reform. It became clear to us after the previous Labour government, led by Tony Blair, managed to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons with just 35 per cent of the votes cast across the country that something had gone badly amiss in our democracy.

AV is not a perfect voting system. However, we still, unhesitatingly, urge our readers to vote Yes in tomorrow's referendum. Though AV has its flaws, it is a superior voting system to first-past-the-post in every way. Here are five reasons why The Independent recommends a Yes vote:

1. AV places greater power in the hands of voters. Under first past the post, voters face the prospect of "wasting" their vote if they do not put their cross in the box of one of the larger parties. Under AV, people will be able to list their candidates in order of preference, knowing that if their first choice is unlikely to have an influence on the ultimate result, their second probably will.

2. AV strengthens the democratic mandate of our elected representatives. Adopting the new system will mean that those MPs returned to Parliament will, in most cases, enjoy the backing of a majority of their constituents.

3. AV will encourage MPs to reach out to the broader electorate. Under first past the post, a candidate can be elected by appealing to a minority of constituents. Two-thirds of MPs in the House of Commons at the moment were elected without the support of a majority of their constituents. Under AV many more of our MPs will have to pay attention to those voters not already inclined to vote for them.

4. AV will make MPs less complacent about their chances of retaining their seat at elections. There are likely to be fewer safe seats under AV. This will mean that candidates who at present can be pretty confident of being returned to Parliament so long as they have the right rosette next to their name will have to put more effort into winning support.

5 . AV will be a step to a more fully democratic voting system. It is a relatively small distance from AV to a fully proportional voting system such as AV-plus. Historically, Britain has always done democratic reform by incremental stages. Adopting AV will be one more – important – step forward.

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