What is Alternative Vote?

Alternative Vote (AV) or “instant runoff voting” is a preferential system in which the voter ranks the candidates on the ballots in their order of preference – the first choice is marked ‘1’, the second choice, ‘2’ and so on until all candidates are ranked or the voter doesn’t want to express any further preference. Candidates are elected on the first ballot if they have over 50% of all first preference votes. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes first preference votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed among those voters’ second choice candidates. The process continues until one candidate obtains over 50% of the vote and is elected.

Why isn’t AV an appropriate system for Canada?

While our first past the post (FPTP) system has its own issues, AV can produce results that are even more disproportionate than FPTP:

  • A third choice candidate can come up unexpectedly to win the election, because other candidates are either extremely preferred or strongly disliked.
  • AV elects even fewer women and minorities than FPTP. This is something we cannot afford as they are already under-represented in Canada.
  • Instead of getting rid of strategic voting, AV institutionalizes it. Under the ranking system, your vote usually goes to your second, third, fourth or lower choice …but isn’t having to give your vote to a candidate you don’t really like the problem, not the solution?
  • VAV isn’t proportional: votes are wasted just like they are under FPTP.
  • AV does not allow for political diversity – in the end, smaller parties are always knocked off first, forcing a country’s politics into a US-style 2-party state. Fewer choices won’t make for better democracy.

How can AV distort results?

Not only are “landslide” victories under AV more likely to result in a vastly under-represented opposition (or no opposition at all!) but the system can result in other bizarre results. Let’s look:

Example 1

1. 100 citizens are electing one of three candidates:

  • 36 voters rank candidate C first, followed by A and B
  • 34 voters rank candidate B first, followed by A and C
  • 30 voters rank candidate A first, followed by B and C
citizen chart

FPTP selects a winner based on first choice votes, Candidate C wins the election despite being ranked least favourably by 64% of voters.

AV selects a winner based in stages. Thus, A would be knocked off the first ballot and Candidate B would overcome Candidate C based on second choice votes. Yet 66% of voters prefer Candidate A to Candidate B, and would be disappointed with the election result.

Example 2:

citizen chart

On the first ballot, voters favour right-wing Party R over left-wing Party L, and Party L above Party M. Party I receives the fewest votes, and is knocked off the ballot. Party M is the second choice of Party I supporters.

citizen chart

Party L is knocked off the ballot in the second round, narrowly edged out by Party M.

citizen chart

In the third and final round, Party L’s supporters give most of their votes to the Party M, with Party R picking up a few. Thus, the final result has Party M with 55% support and Party R with 45% support. This is obviously a poor reflection of the people’s will, as only 22% of voters truly believed that Party M should be leading the country.

The vote in your district is representative of the rest of the country. With Party R receiving 35% of the initial popular vote, Party L receiving 32%, Party M receiving 22% and Party I receiving 11%. However, the disproportionality of your riding result is also typical – Party M emerges with 70% of the seats, Party R with 15%, Party L with 14% and Party I with 1%. In the end, Party M has a massive majority, and is said to have won 70% of the vote, when they actually received less than one-third of their final results.

Does this sound like the right voting system for Canada?

Facts You Should know:

  • AV was overwhelmingly rejected in 2011 by a vote of 68% to 32% in the United Kingdom. And by 87% to 13% in New Zealand! Why should Canadians accept a system that’s not good enough for Brits or Kiwis?
  • Canada is already well below its international peers for women and minority representation, but AV elects even fewer women and minorities than FPTP does.
  • In Australia, many voters under the AV system still only indicate one preference and refuse to rank the rest, effectively voiding the system anyway.
  • Experts say that under AV four out of every ten MPs would still be elected with less than a majority of support.
Watch The Video!

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Politicians have a knack for promoting schemes that help politicians. They try and make them sound like the best thing since sliced bread! Heard yet another Canadian politico talking up the Alternative Vote, “preferential voting” “ranked ballots”, “choice voting” or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)? Let us know! Contact us with questions or comments at