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How to vote on Thursday

November 12, 2012

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 –

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

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

Jon Roger’s web site is here

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Emma Amyatt-Leir permalink
    November 12, 2012 2:22 pm

    You say some candidates are talking garbage. might suggest some MPs are talking garbage too. I don’t think anyone in Bristol believes the Lib Dem will be a ‘top two candidate’ in the Mayoral Election, given he is currently polling 5th!

    • November 13, 2012 11:59 am

      I think this just about sums it up. Vote with your heart and then with your head IS good advice. In fact, it’s the best chance we’ve ever had in Bristol to vote for what we actually WANT, not what we “least loathe”!

  2. Ben Appleby permalink
    November 12, 2012 4:19 pm

    I would have credited you with much more intelligence than this analysis suggests. Close observers of this contect all agree that george and marvin will be in the final two , the evening post poll has Dr Jon at 5th, behing conservative green and george.

    Now please explain why voting with your heart for the first preference is wrong, it seems to me to be exactly what you are doing, voting for Dr Jon because hes the one you reall want then making a pragmatic choice between Marvin and george.

    I personally will be voting green with my heart (first choice) and the george with my head (second). I like both these second choice candidates but find the thought of an all labour cabinet unappealling.

    • November 12, 2012 5:04 pm

      Ben – the Post opinion poll showed 53% undecided so is pretty meaningless. The three serious candidates who could make it into the top 2 are indeed Marvin, Jon and George. But unless either Jon or George is in the top two they will not pick up any of the second column crosses. That is how SV works and your heart and head point shows that you haven’t accepted this fact. Voting Green Party as your first choice is risky. It’s a rotten system, something to thank Blair for, used in all previous Mayoral elections.

      • November 12, 2012 6:57 pm

        a) It’s a big assumption that Marvin will win the first round.

        b) If Marvin wins the first round by X votes, you need to be able to guess which of Jon and George will beat him by X+1 votes in the second round.

        That’s not possible to guess.

        Therefore heart vote and head vote is decent advice. In fact, LibDems and Greens should see it as the moral thing to do, seeing as they’ve suffered from wasted vote syndrome all these decades.

        I would say that SV is the second or third best single seat system. If FPTP gets 1 out of 10 and AV gets 10/10 (yeah I know), SV and Approval Voting would get 7 out of 10.

  3. November 12, 2012 4:24 pm

    Emma, that’s your opinion. The only hard facts are past results. All else is conjecture.

    • November 13, 2012 12:03 pm

      The only hard facts are that there aren’t any hard facts. This is the first election of its kind. We all know intuitively that the Lib Dem vote will dip (compared to last round of council elections). You do expect that to happen, right?

  4. Chris Millman permalink
    November 13, 2012 10:42 am

    “With this voting system, you can vote first with your heart, then with your head”
    Jon Rogers, BBC lunchtime news, 7th November.

    “Anyone saying this is talking utter garbage” Stephen Williams, above.

    If you’re a dyed in the wool Lib Dem you should vote with your heart for Jon in the first column. If you want to have a say in who wins after he has been eliminated, you have to chose between those candidates who are likely to finish in the top two. i.e. Marvin, George, or, conceivably, Geoff.

    If, on the other hand, you are one of those green inclined people who have lent their votes to the Lib Dems because you live in an area where there is no credible Green Party candidate, this is a chance to vote for Daniella Radice without the risk of letting in a candidate who is unacceptable to you. But you must do it first preference because, like Jon, she won’t be there in the second round..

  5. November 13, 2012 11:55 am

    I actually had a lot of respect for your credentials on the democratic reform agenda up until I read this post.

    Now I don’t.

    • November 13, 2012 7:00 pm

      So you disagree with the ERS critique of SV? Heart and head is fine with AV but not SV unless you are absolutely certain who is going to be in the top two. Vast numbers of votes have been wasted in the London mayoral elections under SV, even though it has been fairly clear that Labour and Tory are likely to be in the top two. What I am saying in Bristol is that it is NOT clear who will be in the top two, so you have to be hard headed about both crosses.

  6. Chris Millman permalink
    November 14, 2012 12:42 am

    Absolutely certain Jon Rogers is not going to be in the top two. All the people who vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out will vote Tory or George, all the people who vote Lib Dem to keep the Tory out will vote Labour or George, all the people who vote Lib Dem because they think a Green can’t win will vote Daniella. That leaves about 7, half of whom will vote for one independent or another. (I may have exaggerated for effect, but you get the picture…) Best to vote with your heart, not waste a vote on the Lib Dems unless you actually mean it.

  7. Dean permalink
    November 14, 2012 10:08 am

    A wasted vote is one for a party that is stuck in the past.
    A wasted vote is one for a party you don’t believe in.”


    Be demanding.
    Vote for what you believe in.
    Vote with your heart.

    Nick Clegg, speech to Liberal Democrat conference, March 2010.

  8. November 16, 2012 2:18 pm

    Oh well, only 19,000 votes short of second place…

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