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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fact Checking FairVote NC blog about Instant Runoff in North Carolina

FairVote NC's blog misreports the status of instant runoff voting in North Carolina. In their June 17th blog they boast of how Hendersonville North Carolina volunteered for the IRV pilot again (that bit is true) but FairVote wrongly claims that the Town of Cary is considering IRV for 2009 and that 8 other cities are considering doing so. FairVote NC gets several facts wrong. From FairVote NC's blog dated June 17, 2009:

"Hendersonville has already decided to retain IRV for their 2009 elections, and Cary is also considering doing so. Following in suit, 8 other cities in North Carolina are considering implementing IRV."

The fact is, the Cary Town Council made their decision on April 30th, 2009, about a month and a half ago to ditch IRV. Further, Doesn't Fair Vote know the law? If Cary, or the "8 other cities" wanted to make a last ditch try for IRV, by law they had to do it by May 6th. This is explained in a May 4th email from the NC State Board of Elections:

"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.

Also in their blog, FairVote NC boasts that voters preferred IRV:
In both cities, a vast majority of voters preferred IRV to the traditional runoff system (according to a scientific survey conducted by Dr. Michael Cobb at NC State).

Yes, many said they liked IRV, but this survey was conducted by advocates for IRV who could not be considered objective pollsters. FairVote NC fails to make any mention of the results of Cary NC's 2008 bi-annual citizen survey, where it turns out a significant percent of voters do not understand IRV:

The results indicate there was a level of misunderstanding among the respondents. The mean was 5.83 with 58.6% on the “understand” side (above 5) of the scale and 30.6% on the “not understand” side (Figure 19). This includes 22.0% who indicated they do not understand at all. Overall this indicates a degree of misunderstanding among the respondents. The respondents were next asked their support for using the Instant Runoff Voting Method using a 9-point scale from not supportive at all (1) to very supportive(9). The respondents were also informed the use of the method would save Cary taxpayers approximately $28,000 by not having to hold a physical runoff election. Table 63 shows there is a relatively high level of support for using the method. The mean was 7.21 with 68.8 on the “support” side of the scale versus only 7.2% on the “no support” side

In Summary:
30.6% did not understand IRV
22.0% did not understand IRV at all
68.8% said they supported IRV after being told it would save money.

What does this say about IRV as an election method that 22% did not understand IRV at all? Consider that Cary has the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people. Clearly folks had a gut reaction to the claim that IRV would save money. The problem is that this claim was not supported by any fiscal analysis, nor were voters told of other ways to save money on elections such as changing to the plurality method for example. Nor were voters given any reason to consider that perhaps saving money on elections should not be the reason to drastically change election methods. The survey was planted the idea cutting costs on elections as being beneficial, and then attempted to tie IRV in as the way to accomplish that. In the end, the real costs of IRV showed themselves -the survey proved that this election method was not understood by a significant portion of the voters. Enough to make a difference in the outcome of an election.

Just chalk up FairVote NC's blog today as typical FairVote talking points that like IRV, do not live up to their claims. Today's misinfo is one more reason to think twice about what FairVote is promoting. More claims that do not hold water.