People urged to vote in referendum

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PEOPLE are being urged to have their say in a referendum that could see the voting system to elect MPs in this country transformed.

The referendum will ask voters in Hartlepool if they want to replace the existing first-past-the-post system, which sees the candidate with the most votes in their constituency elected, with a new method known as the alternative vote (AV).

Under the AV system, voters rank candidates in their constituency in order of preference and anyone with more than 50 per cent of the vote is elected.

Residents will be able to cast their vote at polling stations across Hartlepool on Thursday, May 5.

The referendum will be held on the same day as local elections for Hartlepool Borough Council and parish council elections in Greatham and the Headland.

There will be elections in all of the town’s wards except Elwick.

Voters will be asked to respond Yes or No to the following question: At present, the UK uses the “first-past-the-post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons.

Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?

The referendum is part of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Prime Minister David Cameron supports the current system, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg favours a switch to AV.

The Government is currently formed by the party with an overall majority in parliament and that system wont change if AV is approved. If no party gets an overall majority, as happened last year, then two or more parties are expected to work together to form a government.

Critics of the current system say too many votes are wasted and that two thirds of MPs are elected with less than 50 per cent of support of voters.

They argue that a new system will provide voters with more choice and to force candidates to work harder to get elected.

But those opposed to change say the current model leads to stable government and that first-past-the-post is easy to understand.

The closing date for registration on the Electoral Register or for receipt of completed applications to vote by post is Thursday, April 14.

The referendum is being overseen by the Electoral Commission. The votes will be counted on Friday, May 6.

Barbara Lines, the Electoral Commission’s North of England regional manager, said: “Thursday, May 5 is a big day for voters in Hartlepool, with local council elections as well as a referendum on the voting system used to elect MPs.

“Hartlepool residents should look out for the information booklet on the elections and referendum that we are sending to each household next month.

“They should also make sure they are on the electoral register by Thursday, April 14, or they won’t be able to have their say in May.

“Our website, has all the information needed to register.

“It only takes a few minutes to print off a registration form and you can also use the website to apply for a postal vote or a proxy vote.”

The closing date for registration by proxy, i.e. someone voting on your behalf, is Thursday, April 21.