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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Instant Runoff Voting Not So Good Polls: Cary NC, Hendersonville NC, Pierce Co WA, and San Francisco

FairVote touts polls saying that many voters like instant runoff voting. The idea is that if you like something, don't worry, be happy. FairVote does not mention that a significant number of voters do not understand IRV (whether they say they like it or not). While IRV might be "fun", if people don't understand it then they don't benefit from it and may have their vote count for less than other voters' ballots. If a voting method disenfranchise vulnerable segments of our voting population, then we shouldn't use it. We may like the taste of anti-freeze, but we shouldn't drink it.

Do voters understand Instant Runoff Voting? Here's what some polls say:
Cary, North Carolina tried Instant Runoff Voting in 2007
and said No More. The results of Cary NC’s 2008 bi-annual citizen survey indicate that a significant percent of voters do not understand IRV. 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. Keep in mind that Cary is the city with the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people.
There also was an exit poll of voters conducted by Fair Vote and other volunteers. One volunteer even boasted of helping to shape voters views of IRV. See
Slanting the exit poll of Cary's instant runoff voting election

Hendersonville, North Carolina participated in the 2007 IRV pilot.
This town of "snow birds" never counted the IRV votes. Some voters went to the polls and didn't even realize they were ranking choices (Hendersonville votes on touchscreens), and some were surprised, IRV was deemed a success. An exit poll (conducted using IRV advocates) admits that one third of voters polled came to the polls unprepared to rank their choices. Hendersonville will use the single contest method IRV for their multi-seat elections again and thwart any efforts for bullet voting.

Pierce County Washington adopted instant runoff voting/aka ranked choice voting and tried it one time.
56,751 of 90,738 Pierce County Voters polled said they did not like instant runoff voting. In May of this year, the Pierce County Auditor found that IRV was costing too much and the county could save $600,000 if they scrapped instant runoff voting asap. This November voters will consider an amendment to the county charter repealing ranked choice voting.

Take a look at some of the findings in these studies of San Francisco’s 2004 & 2005 IRV election, conducted by the Public Research Institute at San Francisco State University:
An Assessment of Ranked-Choice Voting in the San Francisco 2004 Election
The majority of voters appear to have made the transition to Ranked-Choice Voting with little problem: about seven out of eight we surveyed said that, overall, they understood it "fairly well" or "perfectly well."
However, that leaves one in eight who expressed some lack of understanding.
…We found differences across racial and ethnic groups in regard to their prior knowledge of RCV, their overall understanding, and their propensity to rank candidates on the ballot.

2005 was worse for voters than 2004:
An Assessment of Ranked-Choice Voting in the San Francisco 2005 Election (pdf)
IRV was re-named Ranked-Choice Voting because it can take days or weeks to get the results.
Prior Knowledge of Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV)
- A narrow majority of voters surveyed (54%) knew before voting that they would be asked to rank candidates for City Treasurer and Assessor in the 2005 election.
- The proportion of voters who had prior knowledge of RCV was lower in 2005 (54%) than in the 2004 election for the Board of Supervisors (67%).
- Those with lower rates of prior knowledge tended to be those who were less educated, reported having lower incomes, and spoke a primary language other than Spanish.
- African Americans were considerably less likely than other racial and ethnic groups (41.9%) to know they would be ranking their choices for these offices.
-The majority of voters reported ranking three candidates in the race for City Treasurer (57%), while 33% reported selecting only one candidate.*
*That means that in the event the first choice does not win, 33% do not participate in the "run-off".

So it looks like instant runoff voting hurts the vulnerable populations that we normally try hard to assist.

Then there's this, 3 years later:
Grand jury report
*The 2007-2008 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury review of five elections for the city/county of San Francisco*
Ranked-Choice Voting and Absentee (Vote By Mail) Ballots RCV ballots were used in the November 2007 election for the offices of Mayor, District Attorney, and Sheriff. *Some pollworkers and voters told the Jury that they did not understand how to vote for candidates where RCV ballots were used... Additional education and outreach need to be provided to the voters to clarify the RCV process so that the ballots accurately reflect the intentions of the voters.