Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Cost of AV - and how come so few countries do it

It has been suggested by the "No" campaign that the cost of the Alternative Voting system (AV) might be £250 million pounds.

It has been suggested by the "Yes" campaign that this is rubbish, and indeed Chris Huhne, a Libdem minister, is muttering about legal action against the "No" campaign for the misrepresentation. £130 million was the estimate of cost for vote counting machines - which aren't needed - they haven't ever been used in Australia, which uses AV for general elections. £90 million is the cost of the referendum - which is being paid anyway. And £25 million is the cost of educating the electorate on how to use the system - as somebody said on their blog: "Please can I be the one to be paid £25 million pounds to tell people to list their preferred candidates in order of preference?"

However, let's suppose for a minute that there is in fact a cost to AV. Does that mean it shouldn't be spent? The cost to the taxpayer of the 2001 general election, according to the BBC, was £80 million pounds. Should that not have been spent either?

Of course it should! Government costs money. Another possibility would be that we could scrap elections to avoid paying for them - and have a totalitarian government!

The cost of elections, run in accordance with a country's constitution, is part of the price of democracy. If it is decided (as obviously I think it ought to be) that AV is a better system than "First past the quote post unquote", then the country undertakes to meet the price of elections run upon this basis. The rationale in moving to AV would be ensuring a more representative government. Many people think that it would be worth paying quite a high price to achieve this.

(There's also the fact that money spent by governments doesn't just disappear - it actually pays to employ people.)

Also, it has been regularly pointed out supposedly in defence of "First past the quote post unquote" that AV is only used by three countries - the implication being that few countries have moved in this direction. But in actual fact, many countries already have a voting system with proportional representation (PR). According to Wikipedia, this includes regional assemblies in the UK, and Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil and Russia. AV is not proper PR - it is a step in that direction. So although there aren't many countries that have AV, that is partly because many more already have far more progressive voting systems.

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