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Alternative Vote Myths

Alternative Vote isn’t even a “step in the right direction”. It doesn’t address the major problems facing Canada’s democracy - in many cases, it will make things worse. We need real reform, and AV is not the answer.

MYTH: AV is proportional.

REALITY: AV is not a proportional system, and can be even less proportional than our present system.

MYTH: AV will be a ‘stepping stone’ to Proportional Representation (PR).

REALITY: No country, state, or city has ever moved from Alternative Vote to Proportional Representation (in fact, only three countries use Alternative Vote today: Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea). Politicians who feel pressure from the public for democratic reform often tout AV as the answer, because they know little will change under AV.

Myth: AV reduces strategic voting.

REALITY: It is a mathematical fact that all single-winner elections with three or more candidates are susceptible to strategic voting (this is the Gibbard-Satterwaith Theorem), including AV. Because AV still elects a single winner in each constituency, many voters will know their preferred candidate will have little hope of winning even if the candidate comes second.
Under AV, many will rank candidates they dislike higher than their true preference, in order to defeat candidates they like even less. Strategic voting thrives under AV. 3

MYTH: AV elects more women and minorities.

Under our current system, women, visible minorities, and other underrepresented groups face an uphill battle to get elected -- but they often do win races with less than half the vote. Raising the bar to 50% will make their task more difficult. In cases where women and visible minorities manage to win under our current system, they could often be defeated during second and third rounds of vote counting in AV.

MYTH: AV helps elect our second choice.

Studies show that 95-98% of the time (with AV) we would get the same winner as we do now. In many AV elections, the “second” choice is not the voters’ true second choice but merely an insincere or strategic selection.

MYTH: AV gives voters more choice.

AV creates the illusion of choice by letting voters rank candidates, but in practice it tends to transfer votes to the most popular candidates so that only the top two have any hope of winning. Over time, a two-party system emerges where real voter choice is stifled. Faced with a phony binary choice between the top two local candidates, voters eventually tune out.

Myth: AV Ensures Majority Support.

REALITY: AV transfers electors' votes to second, third, and lower choice candidates until a single candidate has cobbled together a "majority" of the votes. Vested interests promoting AV will say these winners get more than half the votes, but the reality is many people’s votes won't count. For those voters unable to endorse a second choice, this system gives them no benefit.

Myth: AV Eliminates Vote Splitting.

REALITY: It turns out that vote splitting is how third parties and smaller voices often win seats, much as when Naheed Nenshi came up the middle between two right-wing candidates to become Mayor of Calgary. AV is often preferred by those who want to suppress all but the top two parties or candidates. This is the wrong approach: we need a system that gives everyone fair representation, not just the majority. 8

Myth: AV Makes races more competitive.

REALITY: AV won't change the fact that governments in Canada are chosen by a few swing voters in a few swing districts. It won't get rid of safe seats or make elections any more competitive. In fact, AV has the the potential to create fortress strongholds for parties that are even more entrenched than they are today, making politicians even less accountable to Canadians. It will do nothing for voters in safe seats.

Myth: AV Discourages Negative Campaigning.

REALITY: There is no evidence that AV reduces negative campaigning. The theory goes that candidates will refrain from attacking opponents because they want their opponents' supporters to choose them as their second choice on the ballot. But with only one winner, politics is still a zero-sum game under AV. Raising doubts about other candidates remains just as effective.

1. "AV had little impact on proportionality and voter turnout, but did contribute to significantly higher rates of ballot rejection [...] On balance, it differed little from the single-member plurality system."

-- The Political Consequences of the Alternative Vote: Lessons from Western Canada. Dr. Harold J. Jansen, University of Lethbridge. 2004 TOP

2. "There is no empirical evidence that adopting [AV] aids in further electoral reforms"

-- Instant Runoff Voting: No Substitute for Proportional Representation. Dr. Douglas J. Amy, Mount Holyoke College. 2010

"Even worse, the adoption of instant runoff voting for legislative elections could actually set back the PR movement, or at least distract from it."

-- Instant Runoff Voting: No Substitute for Proportional Representation. Dr. Douglas J. Amy, Mount Holyoke College. 2010 TOP

3. "[AV's] effects (on its own without any corrective mechanism) are disturbingly unpredictable."

-- Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, HRM UK Government. Lord Jenkins. 1998. TOP

4. "The crucial factor determining representation for women and dispersed minorities is the number of MPs elected in each constituency. Where only one MP is elected, selection committees and voters will seek out the candidate they think strongest. So long as there remains even subconscious biases about who makes the best MP, white men will be overrepresented. Where several people are elected per constituency, by contrast, parties and voters are likely to seek more balance."

-- The Alternative Vote. Dr. Alan Renwick, University of Reading. 2011 TOP

5. In Manitoba and Alberta, where AV was used for 15 elections over three decades, second choices changed the outcome only 2 per cent of the time.

-- The Alternative Vote (or Instant Run-Off Voting): It's no solution for the democratic deficit. Fair Vote Canada. 2009. TOP

6. "[Alternative Vote] will likely result in confusion, uncertainty, and instability, making 'the cure [likely] worse than the disease.'"

-- Instant Runoff Voting: A Cure that is Likely Worse than the Disease; William & Mary Law Review. James P. Langan, William & Mary University. 2005 TOP

7. "[Alternative Vote] does not produce multiparty legislatures that truly reflect the variety of political views with the electorate."

-- Instant Runoff Voting: No Substitute for Proportional Representation. Dr. Douglas J. Amy, Mount Holyoke College. 2010 TOP

8. "AV exaggerates the tendency of the current system to direct all voters into a choice between two big-tent political parties."

-- The Alternative Vote (or Instant Run-Off Voting): It's not solution for the democratic deficit. Fair Vote Canada. 2009. TOP

9. "AV on its own, because it makes use exclusively of single-member constituencies would fail to address several of the more significant defects of FPTP. In particular, there would still be large tracts of the country which would be electoral deserts for major parties."

-- Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, HRM UK Government. Lord Jenkins. 1998. TOP