Toby Young Toby Young

Our confusing voting system has cost me £25

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Some 114,201 ballots were rejected in the first round of the London mayoral election, approximately 5 per cent of the total votes cast. This wasn’t because people were deliberately spoiling their ballots to protest about the fact that no one standing represented their views. After all, there were 20 candidates in the election encompassing a broad spectrum of opinion. No, it was because they didn’t understand the supplementary vote system, whereby you’re supposed to put a cross next to the candidate of your first choice and a cross next to your second. According to official figures, 87,214 of the spoilt ballots were discounted because people had voted for more than one candidate in the first preference column.

The way the system’s supposed to work is that if no candidate gets over 50 per cent on first preferences, all but the top two are eliminated and second choices on the losers’ ballots are then redistributed. But 327,980 of people’s second preferences weren’t counted, in most cases because they’d filled in the ballot paper incorrectly.

The best reason for scrapping the system is because it’s so poorly understood

The rationale for this hard-to-understand system is that all the voters have an opportunity to affect the final run-off between the two candidates who receive the most votes in the first round, thereby minimising the tally of wasted votes. But the number of second preferences that were transferred to Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey were 192,313 and 84,550 respectively, which isn’t many, considering 624,585 people voted for other candidates in the first round. In fact, more people’s second preferences weren’t counted because they’d misunderstood the voting system than were allocated to Khan and Bailey.

At present, the supplementary vote system is used in all of England’s mayoral elections, as well as the elections for police and crime commissioners, but the government intends to replace it with first past the post, parliamentary time allowing.

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