With just four days to go until Bristol elects its first Mayor and the rest of England & Wales elect Police Commissioners it seems many people are undecided. The Bristol Post reported that more than half of people are undecided about who they want to win. It’s also fairly clear from a variety of articles and from my conversations with voters that most people don’t know how to use the new voting system to maximise the chances of the candidate they want to succeed. Several journalists I’ve spoken to in recent weeks seem utterly clueless on the operation of the voting system!
So, just how does the ‘Supplementary Vote’ system work? Well, it’s marginally better than our current one cross in the box ‘First Past the Post’ system, the most corrupt voting system in any democracy. If we had FPTP on Thursday then we could have a Mayor with just 20% of the vote, given the sheer volume of candidates. The SV system will at least make sure that the winner has broader support from those for whom s/he was second choice. How does it do this?
First – the Supplementary vote is NOT a preferential voting system. You do not get to rank candidates in order of preference 1,2,3 etc. That is the Alternative Vote system, unfortunately rejected in the May 2011 referendum. The ballot paper will list the candidates, with two columns to the right of the list. In the first column you must put a cross next to the candidate who you would settle for as Mayor. This could be your genuine first choice or, more likely, the person who is most acceptable to you and likely to finish in the top two candidates. In the second column you should put a cross against a different candidate, effectively your insurance policy. This will ONLY be counted if your first column choice does not come in the top two of the total votes from the first column.
Second – the Supplementary Vote does NOT allow you to vote in the first column “with your heart” and the second column “with your head”. Anyone saying this is talking utter garbage. If a candidate is saying this (and there are some…) then either they are deluding themselves or ignorant of a simple set of rules. Either way, it doesn’t say much about their ability to run a complex city. More likely, they are trying to confuse people. You MUST use your first column cross for someone who you could tolerate as Mayor or Police Commissioner and has a realistic chance of winning.
Third – the only candidates who can benefit from second column crosses are those who finish in the top two of first column crosses. Where there are two or more strong contenders this forces you to make an educated guess about who will be in the top two when marking your columns. The Electoral Reform Society makes this point well – http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/supplementary-vote/
So what does this mean for Bristol Mayor and Avon & Somerset Police Commissioner?
The Police Commissioner election is the most clear. There are just 4 candidates. The three main parties have a candidate and there is one non party candidate. Given the electoral make up of the area it is clear that the Conservative candidate (Ken Maddock) and the Liberal Democrat candidate (Pete Levy) will be in the top two. This is based on the number of MPs – seven each for the Tories and Lib Dems and just two for Labour. The positions are the same for councillor numbers. So people who might normally vote Labour or Green have to decide whether they’d prefer a Tory or Lib Dem to win. They should use their second column cross accordingly. The candidates can be found here http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk/candidates/area/avon-somerset
The Bristol Mayoral election is not so clear. Past election results offer some guide but are not conclusive. Based on the last general election and all the Council elections from the last decade the top two candidates are likely to be Jon Rogers (LD) and Marvin Rees (Lab). But the huge field of candidates is likely to lead to a fragmentation of the first column votes. Given Labour’s current strong position in national opinion polls it would be surprising if Rees did not get say 20%+ of first column votes. But the other 14 candidates could all be bumping along with fractions less than 10%. But only ONE of them will go into the run off against Rees. And so the SV system forces you to think very carefully about your first and second column crosses. Head and heart don’t come into it. If you don’t want a Labour Mayor (and that is clearly the position of most people) then you must give your first column cross to a candidate who has a chance of being in the top two and who might pick up a lot of second column votes.
I will of course be voting for my colleagues Pete Levy and Jon Rogers, with my first column votes. I am unsure about my second column vote in the Commissioner election (but lean to Labour candidate John Savage) but in the Mayoral election I will be putting my second column cross next to George Ferguson, who I have known and liked for 25 years. George will only get my second cross if he finishes in the top two and Jon is eliminated.
Pete Levy’s web site is here http://petelevy.org/
Jon Roger’s web site is here http://jonrogers.org.uk/news