Will AV cost £250-mn?

(You may also be interested in this post for a summary of the most common questions being asked about AV.)

UPDATE: The No side admits it used made-up figures.

One of the main arguments the No2AV side has advanced is that the UK simply cannot afford to switch to AV, citing costs of £240-250 million.

This figure, to quote Charlie Brooker, is “the sort of magic maths which involves closing your eyes and repeatedly banging the calculator against your forehead”.

The No2AV side arrived at this figure by claiming that the referendum is costing about £82-mn, pre-referendum voter education about £9-mn,  and if AV passes, £26-mn for post-referendum voter education and a whopping £130-mn for electronic vote counting machines.

As critics of these numbers have pointed out, the cost of the referendum is the cost of a referendum, not really a cost attributable to AV. If the referendum were on a different issue (say Yes or No to the EU), it would still cost the same amount (and many No2AV supporters would probably much prefer a referendum on the EU and wouldn’t be complaining at all about the costs in that instance). So we can safely eliminate the £82-mn from the estimated cost of adopting AV.

The voter education sums are also questionable. No one is denying that there is a voter education campaign going on pre-referendum and that if AV is adopted, then voters will need to be educated again before the next election in (probably) 2015. However, the No side seems to have rather arbitrarily made up these figures. I’ve not seen any official numbers from the Electoral Commission or any other official source. (Note, if someone has seen official voter education cost estimates, please let me know.) Will voter education costs be incurred? Yes. Will they total £35-mn? Only the No2AV side seems to think that for certain.

The main issue for the No2AV side is the cost of electronic vote counting machines, which they estimate will cost £130-mn. The problem with that is that there is no evidence anywhere that electronic vote counting machines will be required, nor is there any evidence that there are plans to use electronic vote counting machines. The Bill instituting AV does not mention electronic vote counting machines. The Electoral Commission makes no mention of them, no government official has stated that they will be required (although members of the government campaigning for the No side have said that they “may” be since that is part of the official anti-AV line). There is nothing official in existence stipulating that vote counting machines will be needed, much less that there are concrete plans in place to buy any.

Vote counting machines are simply not required to count AV ballots. Antony Green has made this abundantly clear on his blog (see here and here). Of course, some No supporters will say that this doesn’t mean that at some point in the future, officials may decide that indeed, vote counting machines are needed. True – but the reality is that at present, there are NO official plans anywhere to buy and use vote counting machines if AV is adopted. As well, a decision could just as easily be made to start using vote counting machines under FPTP – the US uses them, other FPTP jurisdictions use them. The entire £130-mn cost for vote counting machines is based on, at best, a hypothetical. There is no proof to support this claim, and so to include that in a tally of the purported costs of AV is specious.

So will AV cost £250-mn? Short answer, no.

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