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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Instant runoff voting in the US is nothing like IRV or STV in Australian or Ireland

Will using Instant Runoff Voting for the Oscars help spread IRV in the US? Anthony Green hopes that using instant runoff voting to decide the Oscars will. Green, who writes about Australian elections, has this blog out Introducing the 2-Film Preferred Vote
"News has been passed on to me of a major advance in spreading the benefits of preferential voting to the rest of the world....The voting system for the Oscars may give some attention to the push for preferential voting in the United States, or as they call it stateside, the Instant Run-off Vote (IRV)."

But you just can't compare US elections to Australian or Ireland's elections. IRV combined with US voting systems is very complex. Our system would have to be completely changed from top to bottom to be like Australia's election system.

US ballots are not like Australian or Irish Ballots. The Australian or Irish ballot typically has a single contest on it, and voters mark a paper ballot with a pen. Then the ballots are sorted and counted by hand, under observation of the public. Ireland only uses IRV to elect their President, a ceremonial office, and elections are held only every 7 years. Sometimes there is no contest because there is no challenger. Again, there's only one contest on a single ballot and Ireland hand counts their ballots.

Administering and tallying the vote is complex - IRV isn't additive and the ballots can't just be simply tallied at the polls but have to be centrally counted.

In the US, it is much different. A typical San Francisco IRV ballot will have 2-3 pages and several contests (not just one) just for a municipal election.
This creates an information demand on the voters and an administrative demand on the voting systems. SF also uses computers to tally IRV and this casts additional doubt over the outcome of the election. IRV has been a challenge to tally in San Francisco, Aspen CO and Pierce County Washington. In Cary North Carolina, officials couldn't count just 3,000 ballots correctly by hand.

IRV in the US is restricted, it isn't like in Australia where all choices have to be ranked by the voters. There's a lawsuit right now to stop SF from using what is called "restrictive IRV", where San Francisco restricts voters to ranking only 3 choices per contest even if there are a dozen or more candidates.

The restriction often causes majority failure: many ballots are exhausted long before the end of the contest and it also explains why SF had to redefine exactly what a majority was.

Before IRV in San Francisco, a majority was 50% + 1 ballots, but with IRV it is 50% of "votes" that are left after all others are eliminated.

IRV has basically entrenched the two party monopoly and third parties only survive if they were already strong before IRV was implemented. Burlington Vt was electing third party candidates long before IRV was introduced there. But citizens there are going to vote on repealing IRV soon.
Instant runoff voting is embraced based on the talking points, and rejected based on the realities: Aspen CO ditched IRV, Cary NC ditched IRV, and Pierce County WA ditched IRV. Burlington VT voters will soon decide whether to repeal IRV or not.

In the US, we can't count plain old vanilla elections accurately or honestly, and adding complexity to the ballot just makes things even worse.

IRV just isn't practical, at least not in the US.

February 5, 2010
Group sues to stop instant runoff elections in San Francisco, hearing 3-12

February 6, 2010
Vote YES on question #5 Want to repeal IRV? Then vote YES! on March 2, 2010. Let's keep voting simple. Repeal IRV is a non-partisan citizens group based in Burlington, Vermont

MOVING TO DITCH. BURLINGTON VT to decide at the polls on March 2, 2010...
Aspen Election Review May 5 2009 IRV single ballot audit unit
DITCHED ON NOV 3, 2009. PIERCE COUNTY WASHINGTON Majority of Pierce County voters reject Instant Runoff Voting on Nov 3

DITCHED. BRITISH COLUMBIA (2ND TIME) 61% of the voters gave a thumbs down for STV, Single Transferrable Vote, a ranking method in British Columbia. May 12, 2009.

DITCHED. CARY NORTH CAROLINA Cary North Carolina rejected a second go at IRV, voted to keep current election method WRAL News Apr. 30 2009 Cary NC tries IRV, then says ‘no more’

February 21, 2009 Georgetown University ditches Instant Runoff Voting - cites problems The Hoya and No IRV in NC Blog

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Instant runoff voting: The power over the ballot box, in Aspen

There's a new kind of black box voting - its called instant runoff voting. Aspen Colorado's experiment with this controversial election method last year brought added scrutiny to the city's election process. The results of Aspen's May 5, 2009 instant runoff voting election raised lingering questions reminiscent of the famous Hunter Thomas' "Freak Power Campaign" for sheriff in 1970.

The power over the ballot box

Dear Editor:

In 1881, Aspen's first voters, all 332, elected a government to usher in “law and order” to control explosives, vagrancy, nudity, graffiti, and other menaces. In 1970, Hunter Thompson's “Freak Power” campaign for sheriff was inspired by Joe Edwards' mayoral defeat precipitated by seven absentee ballots. Precinct results showed that Thompson won the city vote but was trounced in his own Woody Creek by 300 to 90, losing the county and the election.

We know the 1881 voter count, but not why the 2009 computerized official ballot count exceeds the number of ballots recorded by certified voting machines. The 2009 results include innovative individual ballot instant runoff vote (IRV) interpretations, but absentee and precinct data was not reported, although it was readily available in 1970.

In our previous elections, grassroots volunteers managed the counting process and reported results directly from neighborhood precincts. Many partisan supporters carefully scrutinized the vote counting. Can you imagine Hunter trusting government officials, saying, “after you count the ballots, let us know whether you won.”

After 128 years of citizen-run elections, in 2009 Aspenites basically turned over their oversight responsibilities to the government and its contractors running complex and uncertified software. Our election became the ultimate black box with a single night of ballot openness. We cast our ballots and after the election night software magic — abracadabra! — we have winners. Imagine Thompson's choice words if he had been defeated by a government-created IRV-type tabulation method that no one tested, few watched and fewer comprehend.

While the mayoral race was easier to tabulate, and Ireland actually achieved over 50 percent of the re-allocated votes, the council race machinations were baffling. Two candidates won by receiving a false majority counted from a subset of the voters' ballots, not based on the majority of “total votes cast” which the charter requires.

The public pillorying and shadowy dismissal of the Election Commission without factual basis speaks volumes about council's willingness to silence citizens' election concerns.

My litigation does not impact the election outcome. It is to achieve future transparency so citizens can resume taking responsibility for their elections, and verifying them if they want to. No matter what our voting method is, citizens cannot safely relinquish control to mysterious error-prone software programmed by government contractors working behind police tape.

Public access to ballot images is valuable for this IRV election as well as for future elections. I plan to post on the Internet all the images as previously done for Humboldt County California and challenged ballots in the Coleman/Franken race.

The goal is to make black-box elements of our elections verifiable by anyone. What will we see on our ballot images? Lots of ordinary black ovals. No one anticipates signs of mischief or error. I hope to return a measure of power to Aspen voters, even after centralization and mechanization have distracted us from the crucial scene of citizen vote counting.

“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” — Joseph Stalin

Marilyn Marks


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Monday, February 1, 2010

Did San Leandro Mayor and Instant Runoff Voting lobbyist violate open meeting law?

San Leandro's incumbent Mayor Santos had alot of help making his decision thanks to an IRV lobbyist who was in his motel room while Santos participated in a City Hall meeting via teleconference. "Santos even had New America's director, Steven Hill, in his hotel room in the nation's capitol as Tuesday night's meeting headed towards two in the morning Eastern time. ...Santos participated in Tuesday's meeting byteleconference from Washington, D.C."

RCV May Aid Incumbent Mayor in the Fall Santos Gets Five Extra Months to Rake in the Dough 'R' Still Comes Before 'S' Captain Save-A-Country

Supporters of Ranked Choice Voting from the left-leaning New America Foundation had the ear of both Mayor Tony Santos and Councilman Jim Prola from the beginning. Both gave passionate speeches in favor and seemed relieved by its passing Tuesday night. Santos even had New America's director, Steven Hill, in his hotel room in the nation's capitol as Tuesday night's meeting headed towards two in the morning Eastern time....

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