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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--