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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chuck Herrin certified white hat hacker talks to NC lawmakers about Instant Runoff Voting

Chuck Herrin, a certified white hat hacker and IT certification specialist warned North Carolina lawmakers about the inability of today's technology to handle instant runoff voting or even just plain elections. He compared IRV to the "flying car".

Some background on why Chuck's testimony about instant runoff voting was necessary:
During 2004 North Carolina was considering legislation for paper ballots. FairVote came along and tried to insert instant runoff voting requirements in the bill. NC would not be able to adopt a new paper ballot system until or unless FairVote's demands were met. Here we have Chuck Herrin explaining why the IRV amendment should be removed from NC's paper ballot law. FairVote's selfish amendment could very well have killed our paper ballot bill or else made it impossible for us to implement it.

Fri, 31 Dec 2004

Dear Representatives and Committee Members, I look forward to speaking to you on January 7th on the security and audit issues of electronic voting systems. I would like to thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to hear what your constituents and fellow North Carolinians have to say.

I am planning to speak briefly on Industry Standards for Information Security, Auditing, and demonstrate how to change vote totals on a running instance of Diebold's GEMS software, which is the software used to tabulate vote data from DREs as well as optically-scanned and absentee ballots. This is the software that was recently highlighted in Gaston County when the problems with vote numbers surfaced, leading to the resignation of Sandra Page after 15 years of service.

In preparation for the next meeting, I have included a link to a recent discussion of electronic voting by some of my Infosec colleagues from May of 2004 that you may find interesting. Topics include instant-runoff voting, paper trails, and communication with state officials and the public.

I have also included a link to the main site for the Common Criteria, which is the international standard used for building appropriately secure systems.

One other issue I wanted to touch base with you on is Instant Runoff Voting. I think that IRV is a fabulous goal, long term. It stands to greatly reduce runoff costs and other problems once we have systems that can reliably handle it. The problem right now is that our electronic voting systems cannot reliably count straight races, and even the DRE manufacturers have said that they are not ready for IRV. Complicating things, IRV introduces a more confusing system in terms of audit ability and security, since the ballots are more complex and normal indicators such as exit polls will not be able to easily reflect IRV results. Tracing back the will of the voter in the event of problems or fraud would be more difficult with IRV until a reliable procedure and design is in place, and any abuses are much less likely to be detected since the whole point of the IRV system is avoiding recounts. That's not to say that it can't be done, just that it is extremely important to get it right the first time, with proper design and certification.

Instant Runoff Voting is a great goal for us to work toward, but if we need to get a system in place for 2006 and 2008, IRV is not logistically viable. For IRV to work, we need systems that are trustworthy and reliable, and that takes more time and money than we have available before the next election. An analogy I use for IRV is the flying car - definitely possible, and a great idea, but right now we won't get there by strapping a missile to a Yugo. Would it fly? Sure - but I don't think it's what we want to rely on for safe and reliable transportation.

I would be happy to work with you towards IRV as a long-term goal, as I think it has merit as a long-term solution when properly designed and tested. I look forward to seeing all of you on the 7th, and if there is any information that you would like for me to address, please let me know!

Regards,Chuck Herrin,
outgoing correspondence is digitally signed.
Lack of a valid signature indicates possible forgery.
My public key is available at

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is an Instant Runoff Voting winner a consensus winner or a poor compromise?

With instant runoff voting, the promise is that if there is no majority winner in the first round, that IRV will pick a "compromise" winner that more voters will (sorta) like. The idea behind IRV is that if there's no majority winner in the first round that more voters will be happy if a compromise winner is elected. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But the reality is much different.

Now, how did this guy get elected? June 10, 2007 San Francisco...So, how did it come to pass that the city's newest supervisor, Ed Jew, apparently did not even live in the Sunset District and was the choice of just 5,125 (or 26.2 percent) of voters? And the FBI is looking into what this "citizen politician" was doing with $40,000 in cash from tapioca-shop owners who had sought his help with city permits...

2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV "winners" don't have a true majority December 7, 2008 ...This is the big problem with people claiming IRV ensures a majority win in one election instead of two. if you don't have enough vote to get a majority win in the 1st column, all you are ever going to have is a larger plurality win...

Burlington Instant Runoff Election riddled with pathologies March 15, 2009 Burlington.The instant runoff election in Burlington,Vermont suffered from nearly every pathology in the book...Instant runoff voting helped Burlington incumbent Bob Kiss win by getting the most 3rd choice votes. Opponent Kurt Wright had the most 1st and 2nd choice votes but lost the election

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

The charm of instant runoff voting wears off

Instant runoff voting ditch list continues to grow as the reality of IRV is revealed and the pro IRV talking points discredited.

Burlington Vermont voters voted to repeal Instant Runoff Voting on March 2, 2010. A vote of no confidence for this boutique style voting.

The Burlington "repeal irv blog" said this about the decision : "Being charmed by it (IRV) ideologically is quite different from experiencing how it twists the results of an election.

Marginal mayhem- Instant runoff voting results baffle UVA students
March 3, 2010. University of Virginia students were confused by the results of recent instant runoff voting election for student body. Strangely enough, the candidate with the most 1st and 2nd choice votes lost. Even the winner of the UVA's IRV election didn't understand the results.

The list of places that have rejected instant runoff voting grows as the reality of IRV sinks in:
Aspen Colorado, Cary North Carolina, Pierce County Washington, Burlington Vermont, the Utah Republican Party and even Georgetown University. San Francisco may be next as people get fed up and even now a lawsuit has been filed.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Burlington voters voted to ditch IRV today. The measure to repeal instant runoff voting won by a healthy 4% margin. This is a case of a David verses Goliath, grassroots activism verses well funded out of state interests. Congratulations to the grassroots activists.

Sandy Baird on @Ch_17 re: IRV. "I'm perfectly happy with the time tested system, and I'm perfectly happy we're back to it."

The grassroots message was "KEEP VOTING SIMPLE - VOTE YES TO REPEAL IRV" . Because one thing IRV does is make voting more complex and the results can bizarre.

Here are the election results:

Channel 17's Coverage

BURLINGTON - All Wards Reporting

5. Charter Change to Eliminate Instant Runoff Voting for Election of

YES 3972 52%
NO 3669
TOTAL 7641

Some background:

My Turn: If Bob Kiss is for IRV, I'm against it
Burlington's municipal household is in horrible disarray. The pie-in-the-sky hallucination called Burlington Telecom is turning into a shambles of misgovernment, while for all we know, plans for the Moran plant and the northern section of the waterfront may be heading in the same direction. Let the spring cleaning begin.

People will tell the politicians how we want to vote! This is a citizen initiative and we have the power.

It's a funny business I've only within the last year changed my mind about IRV. My distaste for the whole IRV process began when I was still the Ward 6 Election Clerk

Avoid a Tampering of Ballots on March 2: Vote in your Ward! Don't vote at City Hall or by Absentee! The ballots are stored at City Hall and can be opened and changed!

Burlington instant runoff voting:-If you didn't vote for Kiss or Wright, then you didn't vote??Say what? (with video) "Repeal IRV" Blog says that even the instant runoff voting experts admit some votes just don't count...

Burlington - Instant Runoff Voting Interviews (fascinating video)Voters who supported implementing IRV have changed their minds.

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