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UK Labour Party seeks electoral reform referendum

BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Britain will hold a referendum on electoral reform that would allow second choices to be taken into account if the Labour Party wins the next election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Tuesday.

In his address to the annual Labour conference, Brown said there was a strong case for members of parliament to be elected with the support of more than half of voters as they would be under the Alternative Voting system.

“I can announce today that in Labour’s next manifesto there will be a commitment for a referendum to be held early in the next Parliament. It will be for the people to decide whether they want to move to the Alternative Vote.”

Under this system, voters will be asked to mark their preferred candidate, their second choice and so on. If a candidate receives a majority of first place votes, he or she would be elected just as under the present system.

However, if no single candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the second choices for the candidate at the bottom are redistributed. The process is repeated until one candidate gets an absolute majority. The alternative vote is not actually a proportional system, but a majoritarian system.

It looks most similar to the current British electoral system. But it would probably bolster Labour’s appeal to supporters of Britain’s third main political party, the Liberal Democrats, who lose out most in Britain’s first-past-the-post system.

Some government members had been pushing Brown to hold a referendum on the same day as the next election but others had cautioned that such a move could smack of meddling with the electoral system to try to benefit Labour.

An election must take place by June next year and almost all polls suggest the opposition Conservatives would win a resounding victory.