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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hendersonville Instant runoff voting: IRV is verified confusion

If you vote in Hendersonville's instant runoff voting election, will your vote be counted? Will your vote, all of them, count? The answer, your first choice vote will get counted, but the rest might not. You also can hurt your preferred candidate just by voting for him or her. Here's food for thought on the matter by Eva Ritchey:

IRV is verified confusion
Sunday, November 1, 2009

86/14 is not always a good number. If 86 percent of high school students choose oranges and 14 percent choose apples for dessert, that's a good number. However, if 86 percent of the bridges in the state are sound and 14 percent are inferior, that's not a good number.

Which leads us to the question, why have election officials concluded that a pilot program, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), is a good decision when 14 percent (or more) of the voters in Hendersonville's 2007 election found it confusing? Aren't clarity and confidence two requirements of an election system that should never be compromised?

In a traditionally conducted election primary, it's easy to determine the top two candidates just by counting the votes. Contrast that simplicity with IRV, which might be described as the political equivalent of musical chairs.

Using IRV, voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference. IRV is really a tally-and-elimination scheme, re-tallying without re-voting, and repeating until a majority of votes are reshuffled into one pile.

If no one wins the "first" round of voting, then all candidates are eliminated except for the top two.

Counting and distribution is where the problem begins. History has determined that votes not counted on election night are sometimes prone to disappearance. For that reason, a state statute says, "Vote counting at the precinct shall occur immediately after the polls close and shall be continuous until completed." This was not the case in the Hendersonville 2007 election.

Any time a voter makes a selection that can affect the outcome of an election, it is a vote, not a preference. Third- and fourth-round votes cast in Hendersonville's 2007 election were not openly reported to the public because they were never counted. It's a bad practice for government to keep any expression by voters secret. Distributing remaining IRV votes is confusing, relies on more complex technology, makes audits and recounts more prohibitive, and can even change the outcome of an election away from the voter's original intent.

In the Cary experiment, the winner of an "instant runoff" in the District B Town council contest took office with less than 40 percent of the first-choice votes cast and less than 50 percent of the votes of people who showed up on election day. (

In Hendersonville, no meeting was held to get voter input or educate the voters before IRV was implemented, and over 33 percent of voters arrived without knowing it was an IRV election. The average voter has to place great trust in the reliability of the IRV counting method. Perry Woods, a Raleigh-based political consultant, says,
"Ranked choice voting violates a key principle in electoral confidence, and that is simplicity. If the desire is to eliminate runoff elections, than a plurality election will produce the same result as an IRV race in virtually every instance without the added confusion or risk."

IRV procedures as proposed will compromise the integrity of elections. Since state voting machines lack instant runoff voting capability, the State Board of Elections put together an uncertified "work-around," using a spreadsheet program, circumventing the legal method of manually sorting and counting "paper trails." Experts say this method is error prone and risky.

The cost savings IRV advocates tout are minimal and don't compensate for the erosion of transparency. Political Scientist Tony Gierzynski said it quite clearly: "Let's get right into it: instant runoff voting is not good. It's not good because it suffers from three fundamental problems: it discriminates against classes of voters by adding complexity to 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..." (3/12/09,

Can we really justify a voting system that is confusing, difficult to calculate, prone to error and fails to count every vote? Third, fourth and more place votes aren't "backup" votes as some IRV proponents define them, they're your votes and if your vote isn't counted, it doesn't count.

BlueRidgeNow has an op/ed by the Hendersonville League of Women Voters saying that they endorse IRV. And the LWV repeats the same old twisted talking points set forth by FairVote. They put out that false claim that IRV guarantees a majority of the votes. No, it is an engineered majority of the remaining votes, after many are eliminated.

Where was the LWV when Henderson County made the bad decision to purchase new touchscreens in 2006, when the rest of the United States is ditching them because of reliability factors? LWV has done many good thing but also has made mistakes. It is a shame to see the local LWV supporting something without researching it, something that that is detrimental to the voters and to election transparency.

IRV is bad, and that is why places that have recently tried it are rejecting it:

Places that Have Ditched Instant Runoff Voting or are Moving to Ditch It
-Getting rid of IRV will be on the ballot in both Aspen Colorado and Pierce County Washington.
-Cary North Carolina tried instant runoff voting in 2007 and said no more.
-British Columbia had it on the ballot this year and the majority of voters said NO!
-Georgetown University ditched IRV earlier this year.

Other jurisdictions that "adopted" IRV are not yet able to implement it because their voting machines cannot accommodate it.

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