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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Issues with Hendersonville's Instant Runoff Voting Pilot

Hendersonville North Carolina has volunteered for a second time to participate in the instant runoff voting pilot. They volunteered in 2007 but never counted the IRV votes in that election. Cary, North Carolina volunteered in 2007, had to count the IRV votes, and after several public meetings and much thought - ditched the system. See Cary NC tries IRV, then says ‘no more’
Hendersonville has not had meetings to invite public input.

The compromises IRV forces are highly toxic to election transparency and to create barriers to vulnerable segments of the population. The current guidelines and procedures for the Instant Runoff Voting pilot violate key values of election transparency and weaken the standards of the hard fought for and nationally acclaimed Public Confidence in Elections Act passed in 2005.

What is Instant Runoff? Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a voting system intended for single-winner elections in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. Hendersonville is using IRV for a multi seat contest because they just don't know any better and some of the candidates want to avoid a runoff election. IRV 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.

Hendersonville participated in the 2007 IRV pilot, and since no computers burst into flames it was deemed a success. An exit poll (conducted using IRV advocates) said that one third of voters polled came to the polls unprepared to rank their choices, but thats ok in the minds of IRV advocates. In that election, the threshold to win was only 25%, and voters voted for 2 candidates in first round. Voters chose their top two candidates for the two open seats, as usual. Then they ranked the other three candidates by preference. There is very little chance that any of the "IRV" votes will ever come into play.

The Instant Runoff Voting Pilot is bad for Verified Voting. IRV is not "additive", so it increases reliance on more complex and bleeding edge technology and requires the central counting of votes. Central counting means hauling ballots away from the polling place to be counted elsewhere at a later time. This is in direct conflict with North Carolina statute § 163-182.2. and opens elections up to the risks of ballot box stuffing or tampering.

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. 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 Certified voting systems are required per § 163-165.7.(2) "That the voting system comply with all federal requirements for voting systems." These standards were put into place to protect our elections from the types of failures we suffered in the past.I

RV is even more complicated when using touch-screen voting machines.
Hendersonville voters will once again have the disconcerting experience of casting an IRV ballot on touch-screen voting machines. With touchscreens, the voters will see a field of choices, make their selection, and then go to the next page. On the next page they will see the same candidates names - again. Voters may experience confusion wondering if they made a mistake in paging through the ballot.

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. Unfortunately, it seems as if the purpose of IRV IS to unravel the high standards set by the Public Confidence in Elections Act.

Berkely Professor Philip B Stark strongly advises against the use of a spreadsheet to tally IRV saying that "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 business IS spreadsheets) warns: "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?"
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.

IRV will disenfranchise some voters. Voters must choose their runoff choices before they know which candidates will be “in” the runoff. With IRV, if there is no winner in the “first round” of counting, only the top two candidates stay in the contest. Some voters’ choices will not be among the top two that go on to a runoff or the second round of counting, and their vote will never be counted.

There is still no provision to ensure that all votes will be recorded, transparent, and made public. Aside from the policy questions raised by keeping cast votes secret and away from the public, this makes evaluating any pilot problematic because that data is needed to make any scientific analysis.

IRV has proven to be a very flawed election form, even when used as it is intended, in a single winner election. The recent Burlington Vermont mayoral election exhibited paradoxes where IRV likely thwarted the will of the voters. See March 12th, 2009 Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting Also see Burlington Instant Runoff Election riddled with pathologies The instant runoff election in Burlington,Vermont suffered from nearly every pathology in the book! Non monotonicity, the spoiler effect, the no show effect, and majority failure.

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:

March 12th, 2009 Voting Paradoxes and Perverse Outcomes: Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski Lays Out A Case Against Instant Runoff Voting 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 even 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 In 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

Regardless of how you feel about Instant Runoff Voting, current pilots cannot ensure the integrity of an election. The pilot sets a damaging precedent - where IRV votes are not counted and reported on election night, where uncertified error prone work-arounds are used to tally the IRV votes, and where some or even all of the IRV votes may go uncounted and unreported. This opens elections up to inaccuracy and fraud. The cost savings that IRV advocates tout are minimal at best and do not compensate for the erosion of election transparency. While we do hold our election officials in high esteem, the confidence in our elections can have no other basis than the transparency and integrity of the process.

The North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting is a grassroots non-partisan organization fighting for clean and verified elections. We study and research the issue of voting to ensure the dignity and integrity of the intention of each voting citizen. The NC Voter Verified Coalition has consistently fought for increasing access, participation and ensuring the voter franchise. Contact Joyce McCloy, Director, N.C. Coalition for Verifiable Voting - email joyce (at ) or phone 336-794-1240