De Do Ron Ron Ron

I wrote in my first blog on Av that I’d voted, campaigned and stood in more than a hundred individual AV elections. Those elections were for roles in Jewish youth organisations, my Student Union, the National Union of Students, trade unions and voluntary groups.

Despite the fact that these elections happened at different times in varied forums, one candidate appeared on most of the ballot papers: my old mate Ron.

RON stands for Re-Open Nominations, and runs as a candidate in many forms of AV election. RON is treated like a real-life candidate. Voters can vote for RON as their first choice or transfer to RON in later rounds as is usual for AV.

When the votes are counted, RON is also treated list a real candidate. Votes are transferred to him in the usual way as candidates are eliminated. If he’s eliminated then his votes are redistributed and he won’t receive any future transfers.

If RON wins, then the election is declared void and nominations are re-opened. In many systems, candidates who have been RONed are not eligible to stand in the re-run election.

(By the way, only women can stand for election in the NUS women’s’ campaign, so instead of RON they have TESSA – This Election Should Start Again.)

RON is especially useful in Student Union elections because many of the minor roles are not contested; only one candidate may choose to stand. RON ensures that even in this case, the electorate is given the opportunity to elect (or reject) that candidate.

No General Election seat will ever be uncontested. In contested elections, RON is a way of saying “I don’t want any of these guys”. So as a voter, you could do three simple things:

  • Vote for RON 1 if you don’t think any of the candidates are suitable.
  • vote for your preferred candidate 1 and RON 2 if you think that only that candidate is suitable
  • vote for your preferred candidate 1, your second candidate 2 and then RON 3 if you think the other candidates are unsuitable.

However, a vote for RON doesn’t have to be your last vote. You could keep transferring if you want:

One common criticism of AV is that it can’t measure strength of preference. You might think that Candidate A is a good second choice if candidate B doesn’t win, and that even though candidate C and D are both awful, candidate C is marginally worse. Under AV, your best option is to vote:

Candidate A – 2
Candidate B – 1
Candidate C – 4
Candidate D – 3

This vote won’t detect that if A or B don’t get elected, you don’t think anyone’s suitable. It treats the gap between your first and second preference as being as wide as the gap between your second and third.

RON introduces a way of separating your preferences between candidates you consider suitable and those you’re only backing as the lesser of two evils. In an election with RON, you could vote:

Candidate A – 2
Candidate B – 1
Candidate C – 5
Candidate D – 4
RON – 3

Equally, if you think all the candidates are rubbish, you could vote RON 1 and then transfer onwards to other candidates if RON is eliminated.

RON doesn’t usually win. If fact, it’s pretty rare. But it does happen. The contested election for the Chairman of the Union of Jewish Students – a full-time paid sabbatical role – ended in RON being elected in December 2004. The election was reopened and ran again a few weeks later, electing an excellent new candidate who only put himself forward after the RON vote.

Even when RON doesn’t win, it’s a useful measure of public discontent. Candidates that are eliminated RON look pretty silly. Winners who win against a large RON vote are tainted.

Despite what some claim, AV doesn’t actually ensure that a winner has 50% support, because many voters don’t transfer all the way down. In AV with RON, the winner isn’t just the least worst option, but also more popular than ‘anyone else’ too.

The AV system being voted on at the 5th May referendum does not include a RON option. It hasn’t even been part of the debate. Nor have other technical issues like whether the deposit threshold should be changed, or whether John Rentoul’s preferred AV variant – the London Mayoral system where all candidates except the top two are eliminated in Round 1 – would be better. There are only two options: to support AV in the form it’s being offered or to keep things as they are. I think this is a shame. I much prefer AV with RON to AV without it.