Alternative vote

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) ballot to elect an editor for The Journalist is run by the electoral reform society using the alternative vote system, (called instant run-off voting in the US).

This is the single transferable voting system for when there is only one elected position – a variation of which elected Boris Johnson mayor or London.

Vote early, vote often

Voters can vote for each candidate in order of preference – number 1 for their first choice, and so on. In the NUJ editor election voters may express as many as 8 preferences (1 to 8 for each candidate).

To win, one candidate will need to secure 50% of the votes cast, plus 1 extra vote. Normally about 5,000 NUJ members vote. So, to win, a candidate will need 2,501 votes.

Each of the first choices will be counted. If there is no outright winner (no candidate has 2,501 first preference votes), the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated. Their second choices are then added to the appropriate other candidates.

Seconds out, round three

This is then repeated until one candidate has the number of votes needed to win (half the total, plus 1 extra vote).

When the second candidate is eliminated, all their second preferences are then distributed to the others. But if they received some second choice votes from the first candidate to fall, those second choices are dropped and the third choices from those ballot papers are redistributed.

This is repeated as many times as necessary.

And this means?

This system means that the candidate who appears in top position after the first round of votes may drop back after the second or third preferences are distributed.

For voters, it means that, even if your first choice candidate is knocked out early, your second, third and later choices still influence the outcome.

For candidates, this means getting as many people who are voting for someone else first to put you down second – or at least as high up as you can.

Race for the winning line

In theory, working on 5,000 voters and 8 candidates, the first round could look something like this:

  1. A – 1000
  2. B – 603
  3. C – 602
  4. D- 601
  5. E – 599
  6. F – 598
  7. G – 597
  8. H – 400

Candidate A, although ahead, is still 1,500 votes short of being elected. Candidate H is eliminated. But, if none of candidates H’s supporters chose candidate A as second preference, Candidate A would stay on 1,000 votes while the others caught up.

If all 400 of candidate H’s second round votes went for candidate B, Candidate B would now be in the lead by 3 votes, with 1,003. It would only take all of candidate G’s second choices and most of Candidate F’s second choices to transfer to Candidate B for Candidate B to win on the third round.

It would rarely, if ever, be that simple. But it is possible for one candidate to get a strong first preference vote but be unpopular and, therefore, at position 8, with the supporters of all the other candidates.

How to win

So, to win, a candidate must get enough first preference votes to still be in the running at the first elimination.

Two horse race

An alternative scenario is that two candidates get 2,000 votes each and the other six share 1,000. The second preferences of the final six could then be evenly distributed.

If that happens, each of the final six may have to be eliminated before a winner can be declared.

In theory, at that point, each of the candidates could have 2,500 votes making the election a tie. Presumably, it then goes to a toss of the coin?

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  1. Pingback: On Electoral Reform | Mark Farrington

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