Website Search

Friday, August 29, 2008

North Carolina: Instant Runoff Voting is no solution, says election official who was there

On Aug 27, 08 the Asheville Citizen Times published an Op/ed by by Debra Goldberg, who served on the Wake County Board of Elections. Ms. Goldberg observed the only counting of an instant runoff voting election in North Carolina - first hand.

Debra Goldberg corrects the mis information put forward by the pro Instant runoff voting op/ed published in the August 14, the Asheville Citizen Times . John Hudson, an election official from Transylvania County, wrote Don’t be misled; N.C. has one of the best election systems in the country . Mr. Hudson, Chairman of the Transylvania Board of Elections had vigorously defended IRV, highly praised "cutting edge" voting machines which he wrongly credits with improving our elections, and attempted to discredit me and my writeup Instant runoff voting will only complicate things published on Wed Jul 2, 2008 also in the Asheville Citizen Times.

Instant Runoff Voting is no solution, says election official who was there

Debra Goldberg • published August 27, 2008

I was a Board of Elections official in Wake County during the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) pilot in Cary in October 2007. As one of only three officials in North Carolina to have administered an IRV runoff, I can tell you that John R. Hudson Jr.’s guest commentary, “Don’t be misled; N.C. has one of the best election systems in the country,” (AC-T, Aug. 14), contained incorrect claims about instant runoff voting in North Carolina and improperly discredited statements made by voting integrity activist Joyce McCloy.

Hudson states that the voting machines handled IRV well “in the two elections in which it was used.” Untrue — no machines have been used for counting instant runoff votes in North Carolina and cannot be used because no certified software exists that can count IRV votes. Furthermore, the Hendersonville election did not trigger an instant runoff. In Cary, in which one race triggered an instant runoff, the IRV votes were counted by hand. N.C. Board of Elections Voting Systems Manager Keith Long verified in writing that, “The EAC has not approved any software. There is no software available for the ES&S equipment to count IRV voting!” ES&S is the only voting machine manufacturer certified in North Carolina.

Many problems

The Cary election was only about 3,000 votes, yet the process was labor-intensive, difficult to monitor and observe and resulted in incorrect vote counts. The discrepancies were reconciled using hand recounting, done by staff members after the official count. These errors were not, as Hudson states, “easily spotted and quickly corrected.” I can’t imagine the onerous amount of time, resources, space and personnel that might be needed were we to hold an IRV election of any significant size, nor the numerous and potentially irreconcilable discrepancies a large IRV runoff would likely cause.

Hudson states, “North Carolina is known nationwide as one of the foremost election systems in the country” and attributes this to “being innovative, using cutting-edge equipment and thoroughly training our election staff and boards…”. I agree that N.C. is exemplary in many ways as it pertains to voting. I disagree as to the reasons. Cutting-edge equipment does not make for the best elections and creates opportunities for compromising voting integrity. This concern led Joyce McCloy and many other citizen activists to lobby the legislature to pass our voter integrity laws. As a result, N.C. now requires that every vote have a paper trail, in clear recognition of the fallibility and vulnerability of “cutting- edge equipment” used in voting.

Strong evidence refutes claims such as Hudson’s that “Voters in the two counties who had IRV in their city elections were overwhelmingly happy with it and had no trouble understanding it.” In the Cary IRV pilot, I can tell you that many voters left their backup choices blank, and that many other voters wrote in backup candidates with names such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck.” This is direct evidence that many voters did not understand or accept IRV. Candidates involved in the IRV pilot in Cary have voiced doubts about the process.

Integrity of the process

Although many people, including some election officials, seem eager to embrace IRV, and some have been zealously vocal in their support of IRV, it is important to recognize that these same people often ignore and misconstrue the facts which are most important to those of us who are concerned, above all, with the integrity of each and every vote and with the confidence of all voters that their votes are counted fairly and accurately. It is important, when assessing the IRV issue to recognize these key points:

1. We cannot reasonably count IRV until we have certified software. Hand counting, as we must do now, consumes many man-hours and resources, and is error-prone.

2. The push to computerize IRV will surely result in pressure to weaken our exemplary certification requirements and standards.

3. There is no proof that IRV saves money. The costs for necessary machinery and software, increased voter assistance and voter education and other associated costs would, likely, negate cost savings from elimination of runoffs.

4. IRV violates a basic principle when dealing with masses of people — KISS — Keep It Simple … We should resist IRV until straightforward, verifiable, reliable, auditable, certified systems are available to count IRV votes. Only then should we perform pilots while making sure that they are well documented and carefully evaluated.

To responsibly address the issue of costly runoffs, let’s use our North Carolina “innovation” to come up with safe, trustworthy alternatives to IRV. North Carolina voters deserve the most accurate and reliable voting system available, without compromise, for any reason.

Debra D. Goldberg is a former member of the Wake County Board of Elections.
She lives in Raleigh--

Monday, August 18, 2008

Instant Runoff North Carolina: There Is No IRV Software For North Carolina's Voting Machines

North Carolina's voting machines do NOT have software needed to tabulate Instant runoff voting, according to a report by the NC State Board of Elections to legislators. But IRV proponents are saying there is and promoting IRV as a "cost saver" anyway.

In 2007 the cities of Cary and Hendersonville NC participated in an instant runoff pilot.
Cary's District B City Council race did not find a majority winner in the first round, so the "instant" runoff count was required. Hendersonville did not require a count of IRV.

Since NC's voting machines do not have software and firmware that can read or count the additional rankings, the 2nd and 3rd choices for the Cary District B contest were counted by hand:

"We knew from the outset that the board would have to sort out those first choice votes and then hand tally the second choice," said Cherie Poucher, Wake County's Board Of Elections director. Oct 30, 2007 Critics Take Runoff Concerns To Elections Board NBC 17

There was confusion during the counting of the "instant runoff" of Cary District B contest:

Debra Goldberg, who was on the Wake County Board of Elections and present for the counting of Cary's IRV ballots described the process in an email dated July 15, 2008:

"Even with the very few votes we counted in the one small race which went to a runoff during the Cary IRV pilot, complications and questions from the public arose. The process was complex and extremely time and staff intensive. I foresee a logistical nightmare scenario were IRV to be used in an election of a substantial size."

On Dec 12, 2007 the NC State Board of Elections reported back to lawmakers on the 2007 pilot:

These pilot programs serve as basic foundations for counties to continue testing the IRV method of voting on a larger scale in 2008. Consideration for funding by the General Assembly for the IRV pilot program for voter education in 2008 could contribute to the overall success of the program. Funding will be required for software development, after the pilot program is completed, if there is to be any future use of IRV voting in North Carolina elections.

In a June 17, 2008 email, Keith Long, the Voting Systems Project Manager for the NC State Board of Elections advised that there is no software:

From: Keith Long
Cc: Don Wright
Subject: RE: 2nd request plse reply FW: IRV software for NC machines?
Date: Jun 17, 2008 7:55 AM

The EAC has not approved any software. There is NO software available for the ES&S equipment to count IRV voting!

Keith Long, PMP
NC Voting Systems Director

Did everything go just fine with the IRV pilot in Hendersonville, NC? Hendersonville NC has touchscreens and they participated in the Instant runoff experiment, but - they didn't have to utilize the instant runoff counting process. They had a winner in the first round. So we don't know how "well" it would have gone.

What concerns me most about IRV on touchscreens is the "work around" that the State Board of Elections cobbled together for Henderson County. It is very complex. This work around involves a 5 page single spaced set of instructions that boggles the mind. This puts the entire outcome of the election into the hands of a single person - whoever follows those instructions. Take a look for yourself, see what I am talking about.

Instant runoff voting goes against a key principle of elections the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. Not so stupid advice. Protect elections, don't make them more complex.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Instant Runoff: Messing Up North Carolina Elections and Efforts to Reduce the Damage

Instant runoff mess to deal with again. Another Instant Runoff Pilot for North Carolina? Yes, it is true, another IRV pilot was buried within a large omnibus election law bill and ultimately passed. (It would never have passed in a bill by itself). Some lawmakers tried to amend it to delay or kill the experiment to 2011, but intense lobbying by well funded sources prevailed. Lawmakers were desperate to get out of session and go home, and several had items in the big bill that they cared about.

The good news is that lawmakers put several restrictions on the pilot and will require that this pilot adhere to existing election laws.

WUNC has the story of a last ditch effort to kill the IRV pilot:

Instant runoff nearly went down in flames

Election Law Amendments S1263 passed easily, but the Instant Runoff Voting pilot section darn near went down in flames after Jackson Dem Phil Haire launched a cranky diatribe against the recent IRV near-meltdown in Cary. The pilot funding survived, but not by much and only after pleas for support on both sides of the aisle. Watch this one next year.

Rep Haire's amendment would have delayed the implementation of the IRV Pilots until 2012 ,which would have had the effect of killing the IRV pilot because the pilot, as described by law, is only provided for through 2011.

The amendment failed 47-65, which at least shows that not all of our lawmakers are lemmings heading towards a cliff (and dragging us with them).

The fact is that our voting machines are not set up to handle IRV:

On December 17, 2007 the State Board advised lawmakers that:

"Funding will be required for software development, after the pilot program is completed, if there is to be any future use of IRV voting in North Carolina elections."

And here's an email from the Voting Systems Project Manager for the State Board of Elections from June 17, 2008, stating that there just isn't any IRV software for North Carolina's voting machines.

From: Keith Long Cc: Don Wright
Subject: RE: 2nd request plse reply FW: IRV
software for NC machines?
Date: Jun 17, 2008 7:55 AM
The EAC has not approved any software. There is NO software available for the ES&S equipment to count IRV voting!

Keith Long, PMP
NC Voting Systems Director

Lawmakers put restrictions on the IRV pilot this time, in order to (hopefully) ensure that the pilot is conducted within accordance of existing election laws, require that voter education is addressed (and funded!) and that jurisdictions cannot be forced by their Board of Elections into participating:

SECTION 3.(a)The State Board of Elections is authorized to select elections for offices of local government in which to use instant runoff voting in up to 10 local jurisdictions in each of the following years: 2009, 2010, and 2011. The selection of jurisdictions and administration of instant runoff voting shall follow the provisions of Section 1(a) of Session Law 2006‑192, except that the local governing board that is the subject of the election must approve participation in the pilot and also must agree to cooperate with the county board of elections and the Board in the development and implementation of a plan to educate candidates and voters about how to use the runoff voting method. In a multiseat contest, the Board shall modify the method used for instant runoff voting in single‑seat contests to apply its essential principles suitably to that election.

In the case of a board of education election where the "local governing board" must be asked to authorize instant runoff voting because nonpartisan plurality elections are normally used, the "local governing board" is the board of education itself. If instant runoff voting is used in place of the nonpartisan election and runoff method as described in G.S. 163‑293, the county board of elections, with the approval of the local governing board, may hold the election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The State Board of Elections, in consultation with the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, shall by January 1, 2009, develop for the pilot program authorized in this section goals, standards consistent with general election law, and criteria for implementation and evaluation. The pilot program shall be conducted according to those goals, standards, and criteria. SECTION 3.(b) This section is effective when it becomes law.