Today the NO to AV campaign has published research showing that the change to AV will
cost the UK an additional £250 million, and – judging by the Yes campaign’s panicky reaction – this charge has hit home.
Our estimate represents the additional cost of AV. The government stated the referendum would
cost over £90 million – less, admittedly, than if it were not combined with council elections – and the remainder comes from vote counting machines (£130 million) and voter
awareness (£26 million).
This is, if anything, a conservative estimate. For voter education, we have only set aside 42 pence per person, and we haven’t included the costs of additional polling stations, election
staff or training.
In fact, the whole cost of AV (referendum and one election under AV) could exceed £300 million. When Scotland introduced STV (and vote counting machines) the cost of elections jumped from
£17 million to £39 million. Such an increase would drive the expense of a general election to £188 million. Including the referendum and voter education costs, the total bill for
AV could rise to £305 million.
The Yes campaign’s only rebuttal to our analysis has been to point out that Australia uses manual counting. What a shocking oversight by the No campaign!
But, actually, Australia isn’t a relevant comparison. They introduced AV 90 years ago, before electronic counting was an option, and instead announce preliminary results (‘two party
preferred’) before actually counting all of the ballots. Since the UK isn’t a two-party system, we wouldn’t have this option even if we wanted to do so.
Moreover, Australia only has AV and STV systems. If this referendum passes, Britain would have upwards of 5 systems in place, making elections far more complicated to count than in Australia.
That’s why when we’ve introduced preferential voting in recent years – STV in Scotland; SV in London – the change was accompanied by the introduction of electronic vote
counting. Likewise, electronic vote-counting machines are whenever AV is used in the US – As the head of the American pro-AV group, FairVote.org, admitted: “the use of machines is just
a given” in the USA and “special software is required”.
And Scotland will continue to use it despite the 2007 fiasco where voting machines malfunctioned. That’s why Amy Rodger, Scottish director of the Yes-backing Electoral Reform Society, told
the Sunday Herald:
“It’s important to remember that in a lot of the local areas the electronic counting worked fine… I’d hate to see people trying to run on the cheap because Scottish voters
So the precedent has been set for electronic vote counting, and despite its problems Yes campaign supporters have pushed to keep it. Given the scale of economic challenges facing
Britain, this is a change our country can’t afford.
Matthew Elliott is director of the NOtoAV campaign