Tuesday, 15 February 2011

AV is good enough for the Oscars

Fresh from their BAFTA triumph, Oscar hopefuls Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter are backing a Yes vote on electoral reform. The Guardian reports Firth saying:

The referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our clapped-out politics for good. I'll be voting yes."

This has put Richard Preston of The Telegraph is in snarky mode with a 'Firth and Bonham Carter: we demand AV at the Oscars' post.

Just one question. Will Colin and Helena be pushing the Academy to switch to AV, or is the age-old system of lobbying, arm-twisting and goody-bagging its members just fine as it is?

Just one problem. Regular Next Left readers may recall that the Oscars have indeed adopted AV to count the votes.

The New Yorker explained last year why greater Oscar pluralism - with 10 best film nominees - meant AV was considered necessary to avoid getting a winner with committed supporters but majority opposition, so that a majority of Oscar voters preferred another candidate film to win.

To forestall a victory for some cinematic George Wallace or Ross Perot, the Academy switched to a different system. Members — there are around fifty-eight hundred of them — are being asked to rank their choices from one to ten. In the unlikely event that a picture gets an outright majority of first-choice votes, the counting’s over. If not, the last-place finisher is dropped and its voters’ second choices are distributed among the movies still in the running. If there’s still no majority, the second-to-last-place finisher gets eliminated, and its voters’ second (or third) choices are counted. And so on, until one of the nominees goes over fifty per cent.

Its a similar reason as to why the X Factor naturally uses preferential voting (in a series of run-offs as the weakest candidates are eliminated) rather than first-past-the-post, where an unpopular candidate with the most first preferences could win even if 75%+ wanted them to lose and a clear majority preferred another candidate: that's the 'Jedward' case against first-past-the-post.

Incidentally, the X Factor analogy helps to capture why it is nonsense for anti-AV campaigners to claim that those whose vote transfers to different candidates if their favourite is eliminated get "more votes" than somebody whose vote sticks with the same candidate in every round. This is, of course, just as much nonsense with "instant run-off" voting of AV as it is with multiple rounds of voting.

Strangely, this innumerate claim tops the list of reasons given by the No to AV campaign for opposing reform:

AV breaks the principle of one person one vote, because supporters of fringe parties end up having their vote counted several times while supporters of mainstream parties only have their vote counted once.

Hat tip: Jessica Asato on twitter for spotting the Preston piece.

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