If people keep using a bad argument for something, you may begin to get the idea that they're short of good arguments. It doesn't necessarily follow, of course. But the absence of good arguments would at least explain why, instead of making one, they repeatedly fall back on a claim that has been discredited. Thus, the MPs William Hague, Margaret Beckett and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, among others, write in a letter to today's Times (£):
Sir, Those of us who have represented Britain internationally know that one of the many reasons why we have always punched above our weight is our simple and straightforward voting system, a system that everyone can understand, because it gives one person, one vote.
Democracies all across the world have been founded on the example of our voting system. Today, billions of people elect their representatives through the system of one person, one vote. It took many centuries for the principle of one person, one vote to become enshrined in our democracy. And now that it is there, we believe it would be a grave error to abandon this principle and replace it with a voting system that is more complex, more confusing, more costly and more unfair.
Notice that the signatories to this letter don't say in so many words that AV gives some people more votes than others; perhaps they're too embarrassed to say it outright, because it's both false and silly. But unless that's their intended implication, it's unclear what their objection to AV is. The implication is nonsense, in any case. To see why (yet again), follow the reasoning reported in this column:
The No to AV campaign released a report yesterday claiming that switching to AV would threaten the principle of "one person one vote" in parliamentary elections.
Under AV, voters rank candidates in numerical order of preference.
If no candidate receives 50% or more of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed according to second preferences. This process is repeated until one candidate reaches the 50% threshold.
According to No to AV research, supporters of the far-right British National Party could have had their votes counted for as many as six candidates if AV had been used in last year's General Election.
By contrast, in seven out of 10 seats, supporters of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates would not see their vote transferred to their second preference, because the result would be decided before their favourite candidate was eliminated.
More than 90% of Labour and Conservative voters would never see their second preference counted, said No to AV.
Matthew Elliott, campaign director of No to AV said: "As this research reveals, a 'yes' vote to the unfair and expensive Alternative Vote on May 5, is a 'yes' to unequal votes and a 'yes' to giving BNP supporters more power at the ballot box."
This is just sowing ignorance and confusion. Matthew Elliott and the No to AV campaign are suggesting that those who don't have their second (third etc) preferences counted are disadvantaged relative to those who do. But all that is happening is that the former get their first preference counted in the first 'round', then again in the second, then again in the third, and so on; whereas other voters, whose first (second etc) preference candidate gets eliminated, have their first preference counted, then their second, then their third... If anything, therefore, those who don't have to have their votes for their less preferred candidates counted have a reason to be happy: their first choice is still in the race, may even win. There is nothing 'unequal' in the voting rights or powers of different voters.