How to vote in an AV election
Faced with a ballot paper that allows you to rank any or all of the candidates in an AV election, how should you award your preferences? Which candidate should you give your 1st preference to, and which 2nd, 3rd, and so on? Should you even bother to mark preferences beyond your first?
Before going any further, there are some ground-rules that you must understand.
- You have only one actual vote to award. Your preferences merely tell the returning officer which candidate your vote should be counted for.
- The winner of the election will be the candidate who gets more votes than all other candidates put together. This means that there may need to be several rounds of counting, eliminating the lowest-scoring candidate each time, and redistributing votes that had gone to the eliminated candidate, according to those voters’ stated preferences.
- Your lower numbered preferences only take effect if and when the candidate(s) you gave higher rankings to have been eliminated from the contest. So if one candidate storms the contest with over half of all votes cast, your second preference will never be looked at. Similarly if your candidate has a decent percentage of first-preference votes, and thus has a good chance of winning if s/he attracts preference votes from less popular, eliminated candidates, then again your second preference may not be looked at.
- If all the candidates you marked a preference for get eliminated, your vote will no longer count. It will be like you never voted. There’s nothing to stop you voting for just one candidate, but bear in mind that your vote won’t influence the result if all your preferred candidates get eliminated.
So, given these basics, here’s the strategy I plan to adopt, and I humbly suggest the same strategy makes sense for everyone, irrespective of their political affiliations.
- I will look at each of the candidates and choose the one I would most like to see winning, let’s call her “A”, and I’ll mark “1” next to her name.
- Next I will imagine that A gets knocked out. Of the remaining candidates, which would I most like to win? That’s “B”, and he will get my “2”.
- Next, imagining that both A and B are eliminated, I choose my 3rd preference, C. And so on.
There may come a point where I cannot choose between the remaining candidates, or I may refuse to endorse any of them in any way. At that point I stop marking preferences.
Through this entire decision-making process, I can vote entirely honestly. I know that my vote can continue to influence the election until the final outcome is decided. One of my favoured candidates may win, or I may end up having backed losers all the way. But I need not think that my vote has been wasted, because it can continue to count until the winner is elected.
1 I suspect there is never any point in marking your absolute lowest preference, the “nth” out of “n” candidates, because the contest will always stop when it comes down to two candidates, and votes for the losing 2nd place in the final round won’t get ever re-allocated.