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Friday, October 1, 2010

What Carolina Journal wasn't told about Instant Runoff Voting for NC Court of Appeals

The article State : How the Instant Runoff for State Court of Appeals Will Work gives a misleading impression on the ease of continuing or expanding instant runoff voting. In fairness, the story IS based on an interview by Sara Burrows of the Carolina Journal with NC's top election official. Sara is only going by what she was told. When I read the article, I was stunned to see the claim that IRV could be automated for less than $5 million. That just isn't true. If you want to know the truth about IRV, you have to know which questions to ask, and you need to know when you aren't being told the whole story.

From the article, here's the misleading claim about cost to "automate" IRV, which I will debunk:
“It all comes down to whether the voters like it or they don’t like it,” Bartlett said. “If the voters like it and the candidates think it’s fair, then the General Assembly needs to look at expanding it and getting us automated software for it.”

Purchasing and installing the software, Bartlett added, would cost less than the $5 million it takes to run one statewide election.

IRV won't be automated so cheaply and it also won't be expanded without gutting several election transparency laws.
IRV already clashes with more than a few transparency laws in place, from violations of standards for voting systems and vendors to the law that mandates votes be counted where cast, and that all votes be reported on election night. This has to be corrected. Those standards were put into place toprevent a repeat of headlines like this: "A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air."AP Newswire, Nov 13

With IRV, not all voters get to participate in the "runoff". Only voters who had the luck to rank the top 2 candidates will have a say in the "runoff".

The real cost to "automate" IRV would be around $65 million dollars, the cost for all new voting machines for all counties. This is because the current voting system, including the "IRV" software would have to be certified together, and to different federal standards than our machines were certified to when purchased in 2006. It is very unlikely our current voting machines will meet the current federal standards, even if our current systems do operate very well. And these machines will last at least 10 years, if not 15 or more.

In an email dated Sept 30, 2010, NC State Director of Elections Gary Bartlett admitted to me that it was highly unlikely for our voting systems to be recertified with IRV software. Gary answers my questions
in blue/bold.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: request for documents, questions to SBE
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2010 14:58:29 -0400
From: Bartlett, Gary
To: Joyce McCloy
CC: Wright, Don , McLean, Johnnie

*Wouldn't North Carolina's entire voting system -M100s, M650's, iVotronics, Unity + the "automated software" have to be federally tested and certified together in order to meet North Carolina's standards for voting systems and software? Yes. Due to the age of the equipment, I would be shocked if ES&S upgraded these machines because of cost.

*Isn't there a chance that the system you propose would not pass federal certification standards? I have not proposed software; I provided to the reporter of the amount ES&S stated it would cost to develop IRV software.

*Would this system you propose be certified to the old 2002 standards? If not, would our current voting machines + the "automated software" meet the higher standards? No; must be the current federal standards, thus, upgrades would have to be made.

From: Joyce McCloy []
Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:52 AM
To: Bartlett, Gary
Cc: Wright, Don
Subject: request for documents, questions to SBE

"Automating" isn't automatic. To "upgrade" the system would mean physically changing out computer chips plus installing new software, but that would have to go through the federal testing and certification process which could take up to 2 years. Then, we could end up with voting systems that still coudn't tally IRV, as happened in Pierce County Washington when they bought special IRV software/systems. Their IRV precinct optical scanners couldn't tally IRV. See official recap of Pierce Co IRV election

Here's a letter to drive home the importance of using federally certified software and systems in North Carolina.
It is the law, and there are penalties to the voting vendor if they violate that law.
Hence, the letter from ES&S/PrintElect to Gary Bartlett, Director of the NC State Board of Elections

"IRV is not an approved function at the federal or state level of current ES&S software, firmware or hardware. Subsequently, we will work at the direction of the SBE and counties to assist but cannot be held responsible for issues as a result of IRV..".
~ letter from PrintElect to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, dated August 31, 2010.

Does IRV solve a problem or create one? It is highly likely that the winner of the Court of Appeals seat elected by IRV will be by much less than 50%, and as far as confusion, we won't know because in North Carolina, the NC State Board of Elections doesn't report all IRV votes, pretending that those aren't really valid votes unless needed to determine the "runoff". IRV is more complex than other voting methods, because you can't simply add up the vote totals, but have to sort, allocate, eliminate and reallocate, examining each individual ballot.

We could easily argue that this contest violates the voting rights act, because the lack of voter education and the demands put on the voters will disenfranchise many who normally would not be disenfranchised. Our state will only spend $500K in voter education, and already political groups are getting it wrong, telling voters to single shot or bullet vote this contest. *See attached document on voter education issues.

North Carolina's high standards passed in 2005 have improved our elections:
Under-vote rate for President is cut from 3% in previous elections to average of 1% statewide in 2008
Post election audits of 2008 Presidential election show voting machine results are accurate.
See "An Assessment of the Recount and the Certification of the Election Result for the November 2008 Election"


Joyce McCloy
NC Coalition for Verified Voting

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