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Let's Make Voting for the 'Lesser Evil' a Thing of the Past

04/05/2015 22:07 BST | Updated 04/05/2016 10:12 BST

There's no shortage of ways to describe what millions of people will do this Thursday. "Hold your nose", "vote for the lesser evil", or the more academic "tactically vote". Either way, this election will see a lot of people do what you wouldn't really hope for in a democracy - vote for a party they don't fully believe in.

It's a sad prospect for the "mother of all Parliaments". Nearly one in ten people will vote for their second or even third choice party this week - potentially over two million voters - according to new polling by us at the Electoral Reform Society.

That's because under our current 'First Past the Post' voting system, a lot of people feel like their votes won't count unless they vote to keep someone else out - they are forced to vote one of the biggest two parties in their constituency. And it's a fact: our voting system works against smaller parties and encourages 'tactical' voting - simply opting for a candidate with the best chance of winning.

What this gives us a democracy that's not founded on voting from the heart and head - but instead on having to make an excruciating choice between the two. It's no wonder millions of people feel disenfranchised and marginalised from politics.

Not only that, but we also potentially end up with governments of people's second choices - a bizarre situation. The 9% of tactical voters is far greater than the 1-2% difference between the vote share of Labour and the Conservatives. When people aren't voting for who they really support, you can end up with governments they don't really support either. How long can we go on like this?

The answer is: hopefully not for too much longer, at least if the public get their way. We've found that 74% of people believe votes should accurately translate into seats - they want a proportional voting system.

And it makes sense, really. If we were starting democracy from scratch, who would invent a system where parties like the Greens and Ukip can get 20% of the vote and 1% of seats while the SNP get 4% of the vote and 8% of seats (nearly all Scottish seats on just over half the vote)?

So it's fantastic to see all three of those parties - including the SNP who will benefit from our current system this election - all pushing for a fairer way of electing our MPs, as well as the Liberal Democrats. Conservative and Labour figures are starting to fundamentally challenge this sorry state of affairs too - from the Times' Tim Montgomerie to the Guardian's Owen Jones.

Under a fair voting system, people would be able to vote for who they believed in - every time, and anywhere. 'Safe seats', where parties take constituencies for granted because they've controlled a seat for decades, would become a thing of the past as they came up for real competition.

It all comes down to one simple principle. In a democracy, the public should be able to vote for who they really believe in - and not feel forced to back a 'lesser evil' in order to keep out another candidate.

Tactical voting is a symptom of an archaic electoral system designed for an era of two-party politics - an era which no longer exists. 'Vote Party X, get Party Y' is a slogan which should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

After this Thursday, electoral reform should be placed firmly on the agenda by parties around the negotiating table. It's hard to see how it can't when we will have one of the most random results for years.

We'll be pushing to make this the last election won by people voting with nose-pegs on. Will you join us?

Darren Hughes is deputy chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society