The UK is having a referendum soon on whether to change their voting system, from First Past the Post (FPTP) to Alternative Vote (AV). Under the latter system, you get to give some kind of preference statement, so if you are e.g. faced with a choice of Stalin, Hitler or George W. Bush but Bush isn’t so popular, you can vote 1 Bush and then vote 2 Stalin, thus ensuring that the genocidal maniac doesn’t get in[1].  Actually, I’m not sure if that is the correct description of AV, but I don’t really care about that so much, because this post is about the things that the British are not debating.

AV is a furphy in the debate over British election procedure, because the British have a much bigger problem: they don’t have compulsory voting, and they hold their election on Tuesdays. So only 3 people get to vote, but the people pushing this referendum are worried about improving the ability of those 3 people to have their choice represented.

What’s the best analogy for this kind of idiocy? It’s like you’re shuffling around the deckchairs on the Titanic, but your main worry is whether you should be shuffling the leather ones or the plush ones. Of course, both the leather ones and the plush ones come from the first class lounge, but nobody gives a flying fuck, because you’re all about to drown.

In Australia, of course, we have figured this problem out. Not only do we hold our elections on a Saturday, but voting is compulsory. If you are enrolled to vote, it is illegal not to vote, you have to turn up and if you don’t turn up you are fined $50 (I think – it could be more now, inflation in Australia is pretty bad at the moment). You can write a letter of excuse, but claiming “I’m an anarchist” doesn’t cut it (I know this, a friend tried it). It is by this yardstick that one is able to judge that there are only two truly civilized countries in the whole world – Australia and Turkey (the only other democracy that understands the importance of eliminating sampling bias).

Now I know that (some of) my reader(s) is (are) American, and so while you’re chomping away on your Freedom Fries and reading this, you’re probably thinking … wtf? Civilized!! But… they took away my freedom! And here’s the thing… you don’t deserve the freedom not to vote. That’s it. You should have that freedom taken from your cold, dead ballot box. You should be marched at gunpoint to the polling booth and forced to choose between two old white men[5]. When you choose not to vote, you choose not to participate in the most fundamental aspect of our modern political system. It’s like choosing not to wipe your arse (literally, in most elections). Friends don’t let friends do this sort of thing. You don’t get to tune in and turn off, not over this. And not only that – society, through the only means by which it can tell you what it thinks (the law, as promulgated by government) needs to tell you that we care what you think. And we’re willing to spank you to make you tell us – it’ll hurt us more than it hurts you. When people are given the choice to switch off of this process, the result is that the sample of the population from which the government is formed is no longer representative – it’s highly unlikely that the 45% of voters who chose not to participate in Britain’s last election were missing completely at random, and whatever bias infects that non-vote is represented in the smug visage of Nick Clegg fap-fapping around the country to tell us all about AV. The only way to ensure that the government represents the will of the people accurately is to force the people to vote.

Now, I know what you’re thinking as you reach for your gun, and look out the window for the unmarked helicopters. You’re thinking that even if people are marched to the poll-booth at gunpoint (or the end of a $50 fine), they will still cast an invalid vote, and so all you’ve done is waste half an hour of their life[6]. But this is not what happens in reality. If one views the wikipedia description of Democracy in its Purest Form (the 2007 Australian federal election), one will note that in addition to a 95% voter turnout, only 4% of voters cast informal votes. You can just feel the resentment oozing out of the page, can’t you? The evidence here is that in the most apathetic country on earth[7], forcing people to vote results in them… voting. Even though under Australia’s complex preference system, it’s really really easy to cast an informal vote by accident (you just have to put a 2 next to “Wake Up Australia” and “Wake Up Australia Queensland Reform Splinter 2” on your ballot paper). So, the evidence is that people who are forced to vote figure they might as well make their morning march worthwhile, and cast a vote that, you know, changes the country they live in.

So, those of you who are contemplating the AV referendum (or Americans who haven’t even got that far), contemplate that set of numbers – 95% turnout, 4% informal voting – and think about whether you’re being presented with a reasonable constitutional change, or a complete sideshow. First, you need to focus on fixing the basics. You need:

  • Elections to be held on Saturdays
  • Compulsory voting
  • A democratically elected upper house [admittedly, this doesn’t apply to Americans]

Once you’ve figured out those fundamental principles of democracy, maybe then you can worry about extending preference choices to all the people who currently can’t be bothered voting at all. But, you know, you have to learn to crawl before you can walk[8].

As you were.

fn1: Note from this example I am implying that I think Bush was not as bad as Hitler or Stalin[2]. Bleeding-heart leftist my arse[3]!

fn2: Though also, I’m officially Weighing in on The Debate, in favour of Stalin.

fn3: Note the British English spelling, which enables me to distinguish between your face, dear reader, and a donkey[4]

fn4: I’m not even drunk as I write this!

fn5: or a very old, crazy white man and a young, handsome black man who will go on to win the nobel peace prize before he’s even sat in his chair, and prove his authority to own that prize by escalating a war in a foreign country and ordering his soldiers to execute their captives in cold blood

fn6: though they do, usually, get a free sausage

fn7: Actually, Australians like to make this claim about ourselves but the evidence is, in every aspect of life, that we aren’t apathetic at all, but are quite energetic and creative and focussed

fn8:Apparently this isn’t true, and there is a proportion of babies who progress directly from lying on their backs doing nothing to walking

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