Referendum on the voting system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons

The first UK-wide referendum since 1975 was held on 5 May 2011 on changing the voting system to elect MPs to the House of Commons.

Referendum question

The Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011 provided for a UK-wide referendum to be held on 5 May 2011 on changing the voting system for electing MPs to the House of Commons.

The following question was on the referendum ballot paper:

"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 result of the referendum was Yes 32%, No 68%. The first past the post system will continue to be used to elect MPs to the House of Commons.

The Electoral Commission has a website where you can find a detailed analysis of the result of the referendum.

What are the two voting systems?

The video above has been produced by the Electoral Commission to explain the two voting systems.

Under first-past-the-post, a voter puts a cross (X) next to their preferred candidate on a ballot paper. Ballot papers are then counted and the candidate that has received the most votes is elected.

Under the Alternative Vote, a voter ranks candidates in order of preference by marking 1, 2, 3, and so on, next to the names of candidates on a ballot paper. A voter can rank as many or as few candidates as they like or just vote for one candidate.

Ballot papers are then counted by using the first preference votes (i.e. those with a number 1 marked next to their name). If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the first preference votes then they are elected.

If no candidate reaches this 50 per cent threshold, then the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated. Their second preference votes are then reallocated to the remaining candidates. If after this stage one candidate has more votes than the other remaining candidates put together, that candidate is elected.

If not, the process of elimination and reallocation of preference votes is repeated until one candidate has more votes than the other remaining candidates put together, and is then elected.

Further information

Find out how to register to vote.

Learn more about voting in person, by post and by proxy.

Find out how the House of Commons, devolved assemblies and mayors in the UK are elected using different voting systems.

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011

Video copyright: The video is owned by the Electoral Commission and may be shared by others only in its entirety and without amends or manipulation. 

Related information

A referendum is a method of referring a question or set of questions to the entire electorate directly.

Find out what voting systems are used to elect the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, European Parliament and local authorities in the UK.

The last UK-wide referendum took place on 5 June 1975. The referendum question asked ‘Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?’. A majority voted yes (67 per cent).

Parliament's Education Service supports young people's understanding of Parliament and democracy. Learn more about elections, referendums and voting systems.

The Electoral Commission is an independent body, accountable directly to the UK Parliament, that regulates elections in the UK and promotes voter awareness.