AV referendum wording ‘too complex’

By Ian Dunt

The wording of the referendum on electoral reform should be changed because some voters are struggling to understand it, the election watchdog has said.

The Electoral Commission found some people, particularly those with lower levels of education or literacy, found the question hard work and did not understand it.

The structure of the question, its length, and some of the language used made it harder to read than it needed to be, it found.

People were also unsure of precisely what the terms ‘first-past-the-post’ and ‘alternative vote’ actually meant, meaning the media, Electoral Commission and campaign groups would need to undertake work to educate the public about the issues involved.

“People told us that the wording of the question – with some changes – was easy to understand,” said Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission.

“However, they have a limited knowledge of what the ‘first past the post’ system is and almost no understanding of the ‘alternative vote’ system.

“Our research took place without the campaigns and extensive media coverage that will be in place in the run up to the referendum.

“We found that when participants had more information on how both systems worked, their understanding improved and they could cast their vote in the way they intended.”

Plaid Cymru seized on the report as a way to delay the referendum. The party has argued against its taking place on the same day as devolved elections and the exclusion of a third system, the ‘single transferable vote’.

Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards MP said: “The UK ConDem government have tried to ram this through the Houses of Parliament in order to have a quick referendum without giving due time and consideration to the issues being debated.”

The referendum will take place next May. Current polls show the ‘no’ camp slightly ahead, but analysts expect public attitudes to the poll to change when voters start to properly engage with it.