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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fayetteville NC turns down Instant Runoff Voting

The Fayetteville City Council chose not to be a guinea pig for instant runoff voting in this year's elections. NC Verified Voting applauds the City Council for their prudence. IRV would be especially complex to tally in Fayetteville because the city uses two different voting systems in their elections. Fayetteville voters cast ballots on both optical scan and touchscreen voting systems. These two voting systems collect vote tallies differently. On top of that, there is no software to tally IRV ballots.
Fayetteville made a wise choice. Consider that Instant Runoff was a disaster in Cary North Carolina . That town had trouble counting just 3,000 IRV ballots on optical scan ballots. The Cary Town Council chose not to use IRV this year. Unfortunately, the Fayetteville Observer unquestioningly repeats the incorrect claim that IRV would save money. IRV saves money alright, just like getting a free pony saves money. Someone has to pay for the feed and upkeep, free or not.

Fayetteville skips instant runoff voting opportunity - ‎May 29, 2009‎

...The Fayetteville City Council decided against participating in the state’s pilot program this fall. The program would have eliminated the city primary, which will be Oct. 6.

The city, which holds elections biannually in odd-numbered years, usually needs a primary for some of its council districts. The two candidates with the most votes in each primary contest advance to the general election in November.

Mayor Tony Chavonne said he discussed the idea with other council members in recent weeks, and the consensus was to pass on the idea.

“It’s so complicated, we didn’t think we had enough time to understand it ourselves, much less educate citizens about it,” Chavonne said...

1. NC's voting machines DO NOT have the software to tabulate Instant runoff voting, according to a report by the NC State Board of Elections to legislators.
2. IRV DOES NOT SAVE MONEY. IRV has hidden but very expensive costs. See fiscal analysis by other statesThere is the cost of the new machines, software, procedural and policy changes, training, and voter education.
3. IRV often fails to find a majority winner and often the final winner is the same candidate who had most votes in the first round.
See Cary IRV election results for Oct. 2007. After running voters 1, 2n and 3rd choices, Don Frantz obtained 1,401 votes,which is 46.36% of all votes cast in the Cary District B contest. Also see majority failure
4. Requires the Central Counting of votes. IRV is not additive so cannot be tallied at the polling place. There is no such thing as a "subtotal" in IRV. In IRV every single vote may have to be sent individually to the central agency (1,000,000·N numbers, i.e. 1000 times more communication)That means moving votes before they are counted, violating a key principle of election integrity.
Instant Runoff Voting violates a key principle of elections, the Kiss principle.
"We are taught that we live in a democracy. But we can not know that we do unless we are eternally vigilant, and keep a close watch on our elections and how the votes are counted. Otherwise, we can not know, but only have faith, that we live in a democracy." - Andy Silver, Co-Founder of the NC Coalition for Verified Voting.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Minneapolis drank the instant runoff voting kool-aid, now they are sorry

Instant gratification - delayed, in fact denied. Minneapolis' City Council learns that thanks to instant runoff voting, it may be weeks to possibly 2 months before they know the outcome of this years' municipal elections.

Elections director says instant runoff tallies could take weeks to count by Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio May 21, 2009 Members of the Minneapolis City Council found out today that they'll likely have to wait a month or more after election day to find out whether they win re-election this year. City elections officials estimate it will take between 30 and 60 days -- working 8-hours-a-day, 7-days a-week -- to tally ballots under the city's new instant runoff voting system.

Minneapolis — Up until this year, Minneapolis residents have voted for mayor, city council, park board and other municipal offices the old fashioned way. You choose your favorite candidate and vote for him or her.

Whoever gets the most votes wins. But that's all going to change. With instant runoff voting, you can cast your ballot for a first-choice candidate, a second-choice and a third.

Counting those ballots is a complicated and time-consuming process; it involves a series of rounds, called runoffs. The city's vote-counting machines will be able to help a little bit, but most of the work has to be done by hand. ...Ostrow said, at this point, he would vote to delay instant runoff voting until there are machines to handle the counting.But he said he's in the minority on the city council.

Turns out the only thing instant about instant runoff is the situation where you have to decide your second and third choices before knowing how that choice will impact the outcome of the election. Counting IRV is certainly not instant. Unlike with regular elections, you can't just tally up totals. You have to consider each individual ballot and each choice on that ballot and re-allocate as that jurisdiction rules indicate. In Aspen, this meant stopping the count when a candidate in each of 3 contests had 1,273 votes each. But in Minneapolis, they do not have software to tally IRV, and they have different counting rules, so officials there will count until they drop, or somewhere from a few weeks to 2 months.

IRV advocates don't talk about Cary, North Carolina any more

The town of Cary North Carolina was a volunteer in an instant runoff voting "pilot" in 2007. This was highly touted by FairVote, a national group that promotes IRV. When the issue came up again this year, FairVote focused its resources intensely on the town of Cary and its govt. FairVote went so far as to launch a national alert to get advocates from around the country to lobby Cary Council Members. That alone raised suspicion amongst some council members, who resented being treated as if they were gullible and or susceptible to such blatent manipulation. The Town of Cary was not obligated to participate again, so they refused. Maybe they didn't like the "voting voodoo" that IRV is.

Cary NC tries IRV, then says ‘no more’

Cary NC is one of a handful of jurisdictions across the US that have experimented with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). It has often been touted by IRV proponents a a huge success story.

But Cary NC is no longer an IRV jurisdiction and IRV supporters just don’t talk about it any more — because the Cary City Council voted recently against continuing with the pilot program that had seen put in place for the 2007 election cycle.

....The counting of IRV is complex — the elimination of some candidates at the end of the first round means that second choice votes are transferred to other candidates. If a third round is required the elimination and transfer process continues. The average voter has to place great trust in the reliability of the counting algorithm in a way far beyond what is necessary in plurality voting. So the counting is opaque and non-transparent — a kind of voting voodoo with election officials in the role of witch doctor producing the magical results. If one believes strongly that the average voter should be able to understand and observe the counting of votes in a democracy, then IRV fails to meet this standard.

And there you have the reason that so few jurisdictions go to the trouble and jump through the hoops for IRV. Because the process is not transparent and often the results do not make sense. Like in Aspen where in three contests each winner had same number of votes. Or in Cary, where the winner did not win with a majority. It is hard to count, and apparently in some cases the rules are made up as they go along. Aspen Colorado's IRV has been compared to "Football rules" in the piece "Street Football" or how they crossed the threshold by pulling votes out of their "Asspen"!

Pierce County Washington will have to put the issue to a vote to get rid of IRV. Burlington Vermont and Aspen Colorado are both considering doing that as well. At least in North Carolina this is just a pilot, and it is not permanent.

Just say NO. Don't Drink the IRV Kool-aid!

IRV is just so screwed up that I am running out of the energy to link to all of the screwups.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Instant Runoff Voting Retreats in North Carolina

Yesterday was the deadline for any North Carolina jurisdictions to volunteer for the Instant Runoff Voting Pilot. Cary, North Carolina will not a volunteer for IRV this year. After experiencing instant runoff voting (IRV), plurality elections and traditional runoffs, the Cary Town Council decided to stick with the non-partisan traditional runoff election method. There were two volunteers for IRV in 2007, this time there will only be one. Hendersonville will be the only volunteer for IRV. This is a blow to lobbying groups -who had set their hopes on persuading Cary volunteering for the instant runoff pilot.

According to the NC State Board of Elections, May 6, 2009 was the last day a city could volunteer for the instant runoff voting for this years' elections:

"At this time, Hendersonville is the only municipality that has decided to participate in the IRV pilot project this year.

There had been inquiries from Cary in addition to Hendersonville.

Because the statutory start of filing (first Friday in July at noon) falls on a legal holiday, filing (this year) starts Monday morning July 6 when county offices open. That would make May 6th the deadline for a municipality to make a decision to use IRV." - email from Don Wright, General Counsel for the NC State Board of Elections, dated 5/04/2009.

On April 30, 2009, council members voted to stick with traditional runoffs. Cary North Carolina participated in the first Instant Runoff Voting pilot in 2007. While instant runoff voting was NOT on the Cary Town Council agenda, last week, it was mentioned during the hearing. The meeting can be viewed and listened to here at the Cary Town Government website. The discussion and vote regarding adopting the plurality election method began around 1:20. Here are some excerpts from comments made by Council Members Don Frantz and Jack Smith:

1:26 Don Frantz

"One of the reasons I called for change to plurality is because we’d have a public hearing and hear what citizens had to say about it. … Most people said they preferred that we stick with what we’ve got. … Stick with our traditional non partisan… I highly agree that if we pursue change in our election, that we do it in a non election year. Number one, just to avoid any perception issues...

When our town agreed to IRV in 2007, it was kind of rush job..There was a lot of pushback, the public wasn’t involved ...

We’re on a deadline now, I think this is something we’ve got to study

When we look at doing something differently, there has to be a reasonwhats Cary going to get…how is this going to make things better, Regarding plurality, IRV… I can’t see how it makes our elections better other than saving money

I hope all of us don’t mind paying more to get a little better product..

I like the fact that that traditional elections, no matter how many candidates you have in the race, the top two have a month to go at it. You might have your favorite, it doesn’t make the instant runoff… you didn’t know who to rank… but once you know who the top two candidates are… I don’t think it’s that broke… I don’t’ think we really need to focus on fixing it…"

1:35 Jack Smith:

"...I thought that the feedback was pretty balanced .. I didn’t see it overwhelming one way or the other… when you considered Cary citizens.. The important point is that.. we have two years to do some real in-depth studying…get some legitimate polling that’s not biased by out of city groups…get some feedback on our surveys, and do this in a calm reasonable manner, Yes there may be cost issues but is a practice that we’ve been doing this for many years, it does determine a clear winner, a 50%+1 winner….and I think it’s the right thing to do at this time…"

Don Frantz, council member who blogs about council meetings after each meeting, mentioned the April 30 decision in his blog

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Week in Review 4/26/09 - 5/1/09

"...This was council meeting week. There wasn’t much on the agenda as there aren’t many development projects taking place these days. Council did however make a decision on whether or not to change the method of elections in Cary. After exploring the possibilities of instant runoff voting (IRV) and plurality elections council decided to stick with the non-partisan traditional runoff election method. I am pleased. If you have been reading my blog youknow my thoughts regarding IRV – I don’t like it (and that’s putting it nicely). I was genuinely interested in hearing citizens thoughts regarding the switch back to plurality elections (Cary utilized this method until 2000 when we switched to runoff elections). Unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of feedback regarding plurality (until I stated such at a council meeting – then I received a few emails). Most folks I heard from were special interest groups and politicos both in support and in opposition to IRV. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate any and all feedback, I just wish more “average citizens” had taken the time to weigh in on the topic. I would like to thank Chris, Joyce, Perry, and Andrew for all their help."

Hendersonville City Council think that IRV was a success when they tried it in 2007, because it didn't blow up in their faces, there was no runoff election, they didn't have to count the IRV votes, and they also ignored the comments of some of the voters:

Oct 19, 2007 Voter finds new system frustrating By Harrison Metzger Times-News. Hendersonville: Bill Modlin wasn't happy with his first experience with the new"instant runoff" voting when he cast his ballot for Hendersonville City Council on Thursday. ..."It doesn't make any sense to me, and I can guarantee you because of the way they have it set up there are people in this town that are going to lose their vote," he said. ..."I call it instant confusion," he said. (Cached)

The Hendersonville Council's measure of success was whether they avoided runoff, not that voters got to pick 3 more choices. Further, Hendersonville is not using a real instant runoff system, but a made up method. IRV is a single seat election method, but Hendersonville is using it for a multi seat contest. Voters are asked to "pick two" then rank three, in order to elect 2 choices for the seat. With candidates only needing to obtain 25% of the votes, it is unlikely the additional votes will be needed. Worse, this made up election method will thwart bullet style or single shot voting, making it harder for some groups to elect their candidates.

The idea to consider switching to plurality came after the Durham County Board of Elections approached their City Council with the recommendation to switch to plurality. They advised the council that: "The Non-Partisan plurality method is the only method that ensures only one election/voting process." This is true - if saving money is the primary objective, only plurality elections can guarantee a savings and one election only, while IRV might save some money, but would provide a plurality result and possibly some messy recounts or questionable results. On April 7, 2009, Durham community leaders urged the city to keep traditional runoffs and oppose IRV.. the council voted unanimously to keep the traditional runoff system.

So there you have it, Cary, a city that has tried plurality, instant runoff and traditional elections has chosen traditional elections with the 50%+1 majority requirement. This is Cary, the city with the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people. This time, the council had time to weigh their options and consider the facts. Cary has seen the front end and back end of IRV, and based on the results - did not choose IRV again.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Instant Runoff? No. Cary votes to keep traditional runoff elections

The game is over for instant runoff voting in Cary, North Carolina.
Cary Town Council members voted to keep the traditional runoff system stating that it was the best election method to elect the best possible representatives for the people. While instant runoff voting was NOT on the agenda, it was mentioned during the hearing. Council learned in the 2007 experiment that IRV did not perform as advertised. IRV was not "as easy as 1-2-3", did not provide a majority win, and generally reduced the confidence in the elections system.

Cary, North Carolina elections will not be a chess piece in FairVote's game this year. Fair Vote put a pull out the stops lobbying effort against Cary Town Council members. The group had the gaul to send out a national alert resulting in activists from around the US deluging Cary's Council members with emails. No one wants to be the pawn in an outside group's agenda and this effort raised suspicion. One less pawn in big money lobbyists game.

Cary votes to keep current election method
WRAL News Apr. 30 10:53 p.m. Cary, N.C. — The Cary Town Council voted against a proposal Thursday to change the current election method.

The proposal would have changed the town from electing council members from the non-partisan election and runoff method to the non-partisan plurality method.

Under the proposed non-partisan plurality method, a single election would have been held in November, and the candidate who received the highest number of votes for a particular seat would be declared the winner.

The Town used the method until November 2000, at which time the Council moved to the current election and runoff method.

With the current election and runoff method, Cary citizens hold regular elections for the council four weeks before the General Election. The candidate receiving a majority of the votes cast wins.

A majority is defined as half, plus at least one of the votes cast. If no candidate takes a majority of the votes cast for his or her seat, the candidate winning the most votes is declared the winner unless the candidate receiving the second highest number of votes requests a runoff. Then, a runoff is held on the same day as the General Election,and the winner of the runoff wins the seat.
The first election will be held in October and if a run-off is needed it will be held in November.


Cary News: In our opinion: IRV too risky

Here's an op ed in NC newspaper urging Cary Town Council to say NO to instant runoff voting. The writers are Chris Telesca, well known verified voting activist in Wake County, and Don Hyatt, political consultant and owner of the website CaryPolitics. They have monitored both of North Carolina's instant runoff voting pilots including seeing the Cary instant runoff election up front and personal. Chris and Don write about how the current instant runoff voting pilot conflicts with existing election transparency laws and exposes elections to tampering. The new irv pilot contains the same flaws that the first pilot had.

Apr 28, 2009 03:05 PM
In our opinion: IRV too risky

By Chris Telesca and Don Hyatt

The Cary Town Council is considering whether or not to be the subject of another election experiment with Instant Runoff Voting for the October 2009 election. It’s time for Cary and the rest of North Carolina to say “no” to IRV.

Cary has participated in dubious election experiments before. In 2002, hundreds of votes were lost in the nation’s first reported case of touch-screen voting machines failing to report election votes.

Even before Cary voted in May 2007 to pilot IRV, the State Board knew it was too risky to use in 2008 elections because state law and federal regulations require using only certified voting systems to tabulate IRV.

The 2007 Cary IRV pilot program was largely managed by IRV advocacy groups, with no advance guidelines. Some voter education volunteers admit deviating from Election Board instructions to create a more positive outcome on the exit poll surveys — also conducted by IRV advocates.

The Wake Board of Elections couldn’t follow simple IRV hand tabulation procedures. Ballots were mis-sorted, simple calculator mistakes were made and a non-public recount turned up missing votes. The winner did not receive the 50 percent plus one vote majority advocates claimed IRV would ensure in a single election.

There has been no analysis of the 2007 pilot. The proffered reason given for extending the pilot beyond 2008 was cost savings, even though fiscal studies done by other jurisdictions show IRV elections cost more than traditional election methods.

The original IRV pilot extension bill had the same flaws as the first pilot program. Election integrity groups requested an improvement which required “… the pilot program shall be conducted according to … standards consistent with general election law …” Unfortunately, this legislative requirement has not been met.

After passage, election integrity advocates pointed out how IRV conflicts with general election law not written with IRV in mind, and recommended ways to make IRV comply with general election law. The State Board ignored those recommendations and approved IRV guidelines that conflict with general election laws.

North Carolina and other states have laws requiring that votes be counted where cast until the count is completed to prevent ballot tampering. But State Board IRV guidelines call for partial ballot counting at polling places, then moving the ballots to a central location for further counting. The federal Help America Vote Act requires voters be notified of over-votes before a ballot is cast. Our voting system can’t notify voters of second and third column over-votes on IRV ballots.

From early 2007 through January 2009, State Board members and staff claimed we needed federally certified software to automate IRV tabulations. The State Board recently developed automated procedures they now claim need no federal certification. Those procedures were developed with no input from election equipment vendor ES&S. Do the new IRV procedures violate any contracts,warranties or other agreements with ES&S? Will Cary voters be required to foot the bill in the event of election problems?

The Cary Town Council needs to vote “no” on another IRV pilot and keep traditional runoff elections if needed. Our legislature’s Election Oversight Committee should study the 2007 IRV experiment and other IRV elections more fully before allowing any more communities to experiment with America’s right to vote.

Chris Telesca lives in Raleigh. Don Hyatt lives in Cary.