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Voting system goes to voters

Brian Taylor | 10:17 UK time, Thursday, 17 February 2011

And so the calendrical concatenation, promised or feared, is to take place.

The AV referendum will be on the same day, 5 May, as elections to the Scottish Parliament.

The House of Lords finally backed down at the last moment.

For Nick Clegg, one can understand the timing. He wants, he needs, the referendum on Alternative Voting for the Commons. He desires to demonstrate to his own party a concrete gain from the coalition.

Yet, at the same time, he knows that voting reform is scarcely the talk of the steamie or its modern post-industrial equivalent.

So what to do to ease that mismatch between party dreams and popular focus?

There you have the people, still angry about Commons expenses and disinclined to concentrate on the mechanics of parliamentary elections.

And there you have his party, still taking to the barricades with their ancient cry.

"What do we want???" "The Single Transferable Vote in multi member constituencies!!!"

"When do we want it???" "In due course, following a properly constituted plebiscite!!!"

A snag. The solution, of course, is to hold the AV ballot on the same day as devolved and council elections which might attract a modicum of interest, even from those disenchanted with partisan politics. Plus, it is stressed, it will save money.

But, in Scotland in particular, that has caused some disquiet, on two grounds.

Firstly, it is argued that it will be confusing for voters to be considering both the future devolved governance of Scotland and the future electoral machinery of the Commons in the same time frame.

Secondly, it is feared that there will be potential problems at the ballot box and/or delays at the count.

Mr Clegg and the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore have insisted that these problems have been exaggerated by critics: that the people and officials of Scotland are eminently capable of surmounting such a challenge.

On 6 May, we will know whether they are right.

PS: Wasn't it entertaining to see a 40% rule featuring in the ping pong between the Lords and the Commons over this issue? On this occasion, it was an attempt to insist that the turnout in the referendum must be 40 plus before the result would be valid. Those of us with longer memories will recall the rule imposed on the 1979 Scottish referendum to the effect that 40% of the registered electorate must vote yes for the measure to carry.

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