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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cary North Carolina turns down second bite of Instant Runoff Voting Pilot, process still too flawed

North Carolina's Instant Runoff Voting Pilot is still as flawed as the one run in 2007. It looks like the Cary City Council has turned down a second stab at instant runoff voting based on concerns with flaws and complications in the process. The vote was 6-1. This instant runoff pilot still violates key election integrity laws. Efforts to make IRV fit are much like trying to put a square tire on a wheel. Apparently the Cary City Counsel realized that and plans to avoid another poorly developed election experiment.

Instant runoff voting cannot be administered within compliance of current election laws. Cary was one of two participants in NC's first instant runoff pilot, the other was Hendersonville. Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Asheville turned it down cold after public discussion.

Luckily, this time, jurisdictions cannot be forced by Boards of Elections to participate in Instant runoff pilots. Instead the governing bodies have to agree to participate. And that is what the Cary City Council discussed yesterday at their Town Council meeting.

Cary's city council conceded that proponents of IRV were focused on the front end of elections, while, opponents of instant runoff voting were focused on the "back end", which is election transparency and integrity.

No matter how you slice it, Instant Runoff Voting Pilots cannot be conducted within existing election law. Let me outline that for readers:

*The new guideliness do not address § 163-182.2(1) which requires the counting of votes where they are cast.

*The SBOE has stated that IRV is one election, not several, so by law these votes should be counted where they are cast. This is a basic tenant of election integrity.

*Moving votes before they are counted opens the election up to fraud.

*Current guidelines still mandate secret votes that are not ever counted or made public in any way.

*There is no overvote protection to alert voters if they make the mistake of ranking the same choice 2 or 3 times, (thereby negating their 2nd nd 3rd choices). The Help America Vote Act mandates either a) overvote protection/warnings from voting systems or b) voter education to alert to risk of overvoting.

There are many types of "instant runoff voting", and North Carolina's pilots would use what is known as "Sri Lanken Contingency Voting". This is also known as "Top Two Batch Elimination" style, where after the first round of voting, all votes but except those for the top two candidates are eliminated from the counting.

So, if you did not rank either of the top two candidates as your choices, then you do not have a vote in the "runoff".

Since this is all done in one election, you have no way of knowing who the top two candidates would be, so you might not get to vote in the runoff.

Wake's BOE proposes new procedures to help sort the Instant Runoff ballots using the optical scanner to reduce manual sorting. This will require changes to the voting machines after the first round of votes are counted, and before each round. Questionable!

Problems are not eliminated by Wake BoE's suggested procedure to use optical scanners:

*This does not eliminate the hand sorting and shuffling of ballots that can lead to miscounting of votes.

*This does not eliminate the problem that 2nd and 3rd choice votes will not be counted where cast, but will still have to be counted at a central location

*This does not solve the problem that the optical scanners cannot report election night results for 2nd or 3rd choices

*This does not solve the problem that some of the votes cast (2nd and 3rd choices not for the top two candidates) will never be counted and never be reported to the public.
Violating our election transparency laws puts the public in the position of having to "trust" our officials. While we do hold our election officials in high esteem, the confidence in our elections can have no other basis than the transparency and integrity of the process.

Regardless of how you feel about Instant Runoff Voting, it should not be used in our state until it can be done without damaging election transparency.

The NC Coalition for Verified Voting is dedicated to election transparency and protecting the individual vote.