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Multi-option ballot would have negated what was a horrible campaign and given people much better say

letter of the day: EU REFERENDUM

Published 06/07/2016

Like many other referendums, the EU poll has shown that binary voting can be inadequate and inaccurate.

The methodology is also divisive so, all but inevitably, campaigning was adversarial, and actually horrible. Secondly, while many people voted positively, lots only said what they were against.

In Germany 'constructive' votes ask those who oppose Option A to propose an alternative Option B.

A similar process in the UK would have asked those opposed to the UK being in the EU to suggest that the UK should be in the European Economic Area (EEA), perhaps, or independent of both the EU and EEA, or whatever.

So maybe a multi-option ballot would have been required.

Such positive thinking could well have been the catalyst for a more constructive debate.

And now accuracy. Well, the average age of people cannot be determined by a majority vote. Indeed, with a binary question like "Are you young or old?", the answer is bound to be wrong.

With a 10-option choice, however - "Are you in your twenties, thirties, or whatever?" - with everyone voting positively, an accurate answer could indeed be ascertained "democratically".

A similar principle should apply when trying to determine the will of the people. The ballot paper should have included a set of options.

When New Zealand debated its electoral system in 1992 an independent commission drew up a short list - FPTP, PR-STV and three in the middle - and the resulting referendum contained five options.

So, (almost) everyone was able to vote positively and the outcome was, indeed, a much more accurate reflection of the collective will.

If the lessons of last week's events are to be learnt future referendums should be multi-option ballots, with the various options set (as in New Zealand) independently.

A second lesson would suggest that, as befits a plural society in a pluralist democracy, controversial matters in Stormont should also be subject to (preference) votes on a plurality of options.


Director, the de Borda Institute

Belfast Telegraph

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