What is Instant Runoff? Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a voting system used for single-winner elections in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. It isn't instant to count - it can take days to figure out who won the election. All votes are not counted - only votes for the "top two" candidates are. It does not produce the same results as a runoff election, either.
On March the 10, 2009 an email from the NC State Board of Elections made us aware that the City of Hendersonville is considering the use of Instant Runoff Voting for the municipal eleections. The SBoE forwarded to us a letter of interest in IRV from Hendersonville's City Attorney dated March 6, 2009.
The Hendersonville City Council had met on March 5, 2009 and discussed participating in the "instant runoff voting" pilot. I cannot tell if the City Council voted to participate in IRV or not, because there are no notes or mention of a vote listed on the agenda for that meeting.
In a phone call with Henderson's city attorney Samuel Fritschner, he advised me that there wasn't been a public hearing about the matter. Ironically, public hearings are not required if city govt wants to participate in election experiments like Instant Runoff Voting, but are required to if the city wants to adopt another election method already codified in NC law (like non partisan plurality). The city doesn't post an advance agenda on its website so the public would not know this was to be discussed.
If the public did get to speak: In cities like Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Asheville, that invited public comment on the adoption of IRV, the answer was "no" to the Instant Runoff experiment. This year, the Cary City Council who held a public hearing on IRV, and decided not to participate a second time. (Cary tried it in 2007). Cary City Council member Don Frantz was elected in the only contest where the IRV ballots were counted, and he is strongly opposed to IRV. See Cary North Carolina turns down second bite of Instant Runoff Voting Pilot, process still too flawed .
A March 17th email from the Henderson County Elections Director, Beverly Cunningham indicates that the topic of IRV had not been discussed by the County Board of Elections.
"The only information I have is the copy of the letter you referenced dated March 6, 2009 from the Hendersonville City Attorney to the NC State Board of Elections.
I have no further knowledge of their request and my board has not met in regard to the IRV request to the state. I can tell you the seat for the Mayor of Hendersonville and two city council seats are up this fall. The council seats have traditionally been a vote for two."
There hasn't been a vote by the County Board of Elections on participating. This is critical because the County Board of Elections has to agree to participate in the Instant Runoff Election or it can't go forward. The new IRV pilot authorized in 2008 requires agreement between Municipality and County BoE. Language for the new IRV pilot is in this election law amendment bill SB 1263
The Henderson County Board of Elections should be interested in hearing from the public, given that its website states the following mission:
Unlike most NC counties, the Henderson County BoE website does not provide a schedule nor an agenda of meetings, making it less inviting for the public to participate.
The Henderson County Board of Elections, under the direction of Beverly Cunningham, is committed to improving the electoral process by conducting fair and honest elections and to be effective in our efforts to insure that all qualified citizens residing in Henderson County have the opportunity to register and vote.
Citizens should email and phone their City Council members and County Board of Election Members and urge them to say NO to Instant Runoff Voting and do NOT experiment with Hendersonville elections! IRV forces us to compromise on election transparency and discriminates against certain classes of voters and often fails to provide a majority winner. This compromise leads to erosion of the Public Confidence in Elections Law and opens it up to more watering down.
The Public Has Not Been Asked!
No public hearing was held. Even the media didn't know about this. In a phone call with Henderson's city attorney Samuel Fritschner, he advised me that there hasn't been a public hearing about the matter. Ironically, public hearings are not required if city govt wants to participate in election experiments like Instant Runoff Voting, but are required to hold public hearings if the city wants to adopt another tried and true election method already codified in NC law (like non partisan plurality). The public was not notified about the City Council's discussion about participating in the Instant Runoff Voting experiment and the city doesn't post an advance agenda on its website.
In cities like Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Asheville, that invited public comment on the adoption of IRV, the answer was "no" to the Instant Runoff experiment. This year, the Cary City Council (who held a public hearing on IRV, and decided not to participate a second time. (Cary tried it in 2007). Cary City Council member Don Frantz was elected in the only contest where the IRV ballots were counted, and he is strongly opposed to IRV. See Cary North Carolina turns down second bite of Instant Runoff Voting Pilot, process still too flawed .
The Instant Runoff Voting Pilot as is bad for Verified Voting
The procedures to tabulate IRV in touch-screen jurisdictions cut corners on election transparency. Since there is no federally certified software to tabulate IRV votes, the State Board of Elections has devised a work around. This "workaround" employs a spreadsheet using a 5 page single spaced algorithm to tabulate the votes. Doing manual recounts or audits of complex IRV ballots on the long paper trail rolls would be difficult if not impossible, since these printouts do not have a ballot summary. Until the touchscreens print a simple voter verified ballot summary, IRV shouldn't even be considered, or Hendersonville should agree to use paper or optical scan ballots instead.
A threat to our election integrity standards. The NC Coalition for Verified Voting argues that this uncertified "workaround" is an encroachment on the hard fought for and nationally acclaimed standards of SL 323, The Public Confidence in Elections Law which requires federally certified software for tabulating the votes.
Recounts and audits of the "voter verified" paper trail would be laborious and confusing, since these printouts do not have a ballot summary. Until the touchscreens print a simple voter verified ballot summary, IRV shouldn't even be considered, or Hendersonville should agree to use paper or optical scan ballots instead.
Berkely University Statistics Professor Philip Stark, warns against using a spreadsheet to tabulate the instant runoff results. In a Dec 26, 2008 email, Professor Stark explained his concerns, here are a few:
1) The procedure proposed is very complicated, with many manual steps. Human error in such a complex task is almost inevitable. A slight slip can result in mis copying data, overwriting data, hitting the wrong function, etc.
2) Spreadsheets mix data and programming. It is not possible to tell at a glance whether a cell in a spreadsheet is data or the result of a calculation. As a result, it is quite easy--deliberately or inadvertently--to corrupt a calculation or the data on which it is based. In principle that can be detected, but it requires additional scrutiny--such as clicking each cell and looking at what is displayed. And even that is not foolproof. ...
Tom Dahlberg, of Dahlberg Business Logic Inc. (his busines IS spreadsheets) http://www.business-analysis-using-spreadsheets.com/ also warns against using the excel work around to tabulate the instant runoff results. Here's an excerpt:
"How can the state prove, to those who have standing (all voters) consistent with the compelling state interest, that the automation is working properly and not committing fraud? And who has the burden of proof if not the election officials responsible for the integrity of the process?"
Instant Runoff Voting discriminates against classes of voters
Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski, Supervisor for the Vermont Legislative Research Shop has analyzed the exit poll data of the recent Burlington, Vermont Mayoral Election. The Vermont Daily Briefing has an article up by Gierzynski, here's an excerpt:
Let’s get right into it: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is not good. It is not good because it suffers from three fundamental problems: it discriminates against classes of voters by adding complexity the ballot; it has a very real potential to produce perverse outcomes or voting paradoxes that are not majoritarian; and it fails to address the real problem that arises when multiple parties compete in a two-party system.....
The effect of adding such complexity to the ballot is not neutral or random; it is more likely to confuse those same groups of disadvantaged voters confused by the Florida ballots. This fact was demonstrated by exit polls of both Burlington voters and San Francisco voters who have also used IRV.
Even when used in a single contest, IRV caused greater confusion among those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. In other words, IRV discriminates. Proponents of IRV like to frame this argument by countering that what critics of IRV are saying is that voters are stupid. We are saying no such thing.
These analyses are not impugning the intelligence of the American voter, just recognizing the limits to what a political system can ask of its citizens and recognizing that adding complexity to the ballot will disproportionately harm some groups of people more than others ... (more at the link )
Instant Runoff Voting does not produce a majority winner most of the time:
Saturday, March 7, 2009 No Majority Winner in Instant Runoff Voting election in Burlington Vermont Mayoral Contest
December 7, 2008 2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV "winners" don't have a true majority
Consistent Majority Failure in San Francisco's Instant Runoff Voting Elections. A
review of the results for San Francisco Ranked Choice Voting elections shows that IRV elects a plurality winner: These results are remarkably consistent. Out of 20 RCV elections that have been held since the referendum establishing it passed, when IRV was used, it elected a plurality winner
Take Action Now:
Contact your County Board of Elections Members ASAP, and also your City Council Members.
Henderson County Board of Elections Members (Term Expires June 2009)
Tom Wilson, Chairman Betty Gash, Secretary Joe Abrell, Member
BoE Members phone numbers and at least one email address listed here under District One
Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask Director of Elections Beverly W. Cunningham to forward them to Board of Elections members. The County BoE Phone (828) 697-4970 Fax (828) 697-4590
Hendersonville City Council
The Council meets on the first Thursday after the first Monday of each month at 5:45 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Regular meetings begin with public comment time.
Mayor Greg Newman
Mayor Pro-Tem Barbara Volk
Councilman Jeff Collis
Councilman Bill O'Cain
Councilman Steve Caraker
email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
City Hall, 145 Fifth Avenue East, PO Box 1670, Hendersonville, NC 28793. 828/697-3000