In this borough election you have three votes. This is only the third time that this has happened in living memory. Of the sixteen wards in Weybridge our ward has the most candidates – ten. We have the longest ballot for a local election that I can remember. Most wards have around seven and the shortest ballot is five. There are twelve parties standing across the borough. Weybridge Riverside is the only ward in the borough where all three major parties are putting up three candidates. This year Elmbridge has one independent candidate standing and he is standing in our ward.
England is moving relatively behind Ireland, Scotland and Wales because we mark our ballots with an “X”. Elsewhere – as with most of the developed world – people mark their preferences: 1, 2, 3, … Even with the same ballot the results of these two systems are quite different. Preference voting, in my view at least, gives the voter far greater choice as they can give their preference within parties as well as between them. It also allows the voter to vote positively in favour of their preferred choice – in the knowledge that if their preferred candidate fails to win their will be transferred to their next favourite candidate.
Preference voting allows the voter to be more discerning. Parties are not as monolithic as often presented. Clearly there are different views within parties as recent events within Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives have shown. Preference voting allows the voter to reflect those debates.
One preference criteria would favour me – being local. I live about 30 metres from the town centre – only about 18 voters live closer to the town centre than I do. Four other candidates live within the ward. Eight candidates live in Weybridge but in other wards and two candidates, as far as I can see, do not live in Weybridge at all (both Conservative). If we imagined our wards to be countries instead, although some candidates live in Britain, some of our candidates live in France or Germany and two Conservatives appear to live in Poland and Romania. Age is another factor, or gender, or background. It fact there are myriads of criteria that the voter can use with ease under preference voting that is not readily available with marking an X.
Preference voting would also encourage more people and parties to stand (no Greens or UKIP standing in Riverside) giving the voter a wider choice.
Preference voting also allows votes to accumulate. For example, although Labour has put up three candidates in Riverside (unlike elsewhere in the borough) they have a very low chance of winning here. Under preference voting, as each Labour candidate is withdrawn in the counting process their lost votes would be swapped to their colleagues (assuming that a voters would stick within a party before moving outside). The remaining Labour candidate would gain votes and this might put her/him in contention. Under the present system Labour votes tend to dissipate here.
Virtually everyone reading this will be voting this Thursday (many would have already voted). Do remember to use all of your three votes.
Those of you who know me, will understand that, although I am of a party, I am not partisan. I work with people of party and of none with the sole aim of keeping the best of Weybridge and improving the rest. I hope that you have recognised the changes that I have already brought as the only Liberal Democrat councillor in Weybridge (out of ten). I feel that we could achieve so much more if there were three Liberal Democrat councillors working together for the good of our town.