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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.