This morning on Twitter I equated the process used to elect the Conservative Party Leader with AV, and was called out on that with someone telling me that they are not the same. So, lets look at the processes of both and see what falls out. This is based on the document here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-01366.pdf

 

Conservative Leadship System

  1. Candidates declare their intent to stand, and canvass voters 
  2. Voting takes place – 1 member 1 vote – for the available candidates
  3. If a candidate achieves more than 50% of the vote, they are elected
  4. If no candidate acheives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the lowest total of votes is removed, and the process returns to step 2

AV Voting System

  1. Candidates declare their intent to stand, and canvass voters
  2. Voting takes place – 1 member 1 vote for the available candidates
  3. If a candidate achieves more than 50% of the vote, they are elected
  4. If no candidate acheives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the lowest total of votes is removed, and the process returns to step 2

 

How are they different?

The only difference is in how the voters actually make their votes known in step 2. In the Conservative Party system you make your vote known only at the time of voting in each round. That allows voters to completely change their vote from one round to the next, even if their candidate from the previous round is still present. This enables you transfer your vote if your candidate is eliminated, but also if you suddenly have a change of heart and decide that you don’t actually want the person you did vote for previously. It, crucially, requires multiple instances of the ballot process be run – everyone has to turn up and vote as many times as is required for someone to get to 50% or more of the vote.

Under AV you still vote for one person explicitly in each round, except that the way you vote in a round is determined by your preferences which are detailed at the ‘first’ instance of the ballot paper. The process dictates that you will always vote for your first choice candidate in every round of votes, if they are available. If in any round of votes your first choice has been eliminated, then your second choice is used, and so on. This allows you to transfer your vote if your candidate is eliminated, but the downside of this is that you can’t change your mind once the ballot paper is submitted, your vote in each round will be chosen based on the preferences you select at the outset. The upside is that it means voters only have to turn up to the polling station once.

So, it’s still 1 person 1 vote, everyone still gets to vote in every round, and the winner is still required to reach 50% of votes. In the latter case it does remove the requirement to attend multiple separate ballots, which would be impractical when applied on a national scale, at the expense of a slight loss of flexibility in your vote.

For all intent and purpose – the system is the same in both cases, varying in one practical detail in the way it’s implemented, but the same system regardless. In fact, the Conservative Party Leadship election system is also known as a ‘run off’ system, and the AV system is known as ‘immediate run-off’.

 

French Presidential Election versus Conservative Leadership Election

It has been suggested to me that the Conservative Party system is similar to the French Presidential system, and thus not AV. Both are actually AV, and again differ only in implementation. In fact the Conservative party system is much closer to AV system proposed for the UK election of MPs than it is to the French Presidential System of AV. In all cases you get to cast your vote, and if no one gets 50% you vote again until someone does.

The French system forces a 50% vote in the second round though, by reducing the number of candidates to the top two from the first vote. In the other two cases there are multiple rounds of voting each eliminating the candidate securing the lowest number of votes in that round.

Whether you choose your candidate each time at polling booth, or ahead of time at the first ballot, they are all effectively alternative vote systems because they allow you to choose an alternate vote if your first choice candidate is no longer available, and no one has reached a 50% majority.