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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

N Carolina Instant Runoff Voting 'Not best way to boost confidence in elections'

Here's op/ed in Charlotte Observer (one of NC's top newspapers) about Instant runoff voting. And how it wasn't everything it was cracked up to be.. My comments below the article.

Not best way to boost confidence in elections
Instant Runoff Voting was alot faster than the counting.

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 Charlotte Observer

Perhaps the best that can be said of North Carolina's new electoral experiment is that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) accomplished two of its goals: It produced a winner, though the loser has asked for a recount. And it saved N.C. taxpayers upwards of $5 million because it wasn't necessary to hold a statewide runoff election.

But the IRV process was anything but instant. Voters cast ballots fairly quickly for their first, second and third choices among 13 candidates running for an N.C. Court of Appeals seat, and first-round ballots were tallied fast. But computing the impact of those second and third choices took more than another month. A glaring error, once discovered, resulted in a dramatic change in the apparent winner. And the vote was so close that one candidate is exercising his right to a recount just to make sure.

Out of all this, are voters reassured about the electoral process? Maybe so. The election did result in the selection of an experienced, solid judge in New Bern lawyer Doug McCullough, who served previously on the Court of Appeals.

And the apparent loser in this election, Raleigh lawyer Cressie Thigpen, may continue to serve on the court even if he falls short in the recount. Gov. Bev Perdue had appointed Thigpen to the seat late last summer to fill a vacancy, and she could appoint him to another vacancy caused by the election of Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Jackson to the N.C. Supreme Court.

But the most troubling thing about Instant Runoff Voting was not that it did not produce an instant winner, nor that it has taken so long to persuasively produce a winner. The most troubling point is that Thigpen led the Election Day voting with more than 395,000 votes - 20 percent of the 1.9 million votes cast, but lost to McCullough, who came in second with more than 295,000 votes, about 15 percent of the total.

In other words, Thigpen was not the first choice of 80 percent of the voters, while McCullough was not the first choice of 85 percent of voters. Yet when all the second- and third-choice votes were added, McCullough had a lead of more than 6,000. It will strike some voters as curious that second- and third-choice votes count as much as first-choice votes - with the result that the candidate who led the election in the first round loses.

That's the way Instant Runoff Voting works - and it may be the reason that a number of jurisdictions have stopped using it to determine victors in multi-candidate races. N.C. legislators should re-examine the law to determine whether it's the best way to maintain voter confidence in elections. We believe that case has yet to be made.

We think the better course is to avoid using the IRV process in statewide elections, because it takes too long to compute a winner. Lawmakers would be wiser to allow judicial appointees named to court seats after statewide primaries are over to serve until the next regularly scheduled statewide primaries. That would give the nominee time to concentrate on the job - and give voters a clearer result on Election Day.

Here's my comment posted online to this article:

There was no majority winner here. Worse, the tallying process is error prone, as stated in the OP, although the exact type of error is not stated. Why not? Voters weren't prepared to rank choices and the only voter education in our state, a voting rights act state, was a voter guide sent to households. Around 5 cents was spent educating voters about this voting method formally known as "Sri Lanken Contingency Voting".

IRV is very complex to tally - even if NC had federally tested software to tally it, which we don't! IRV is not additive. Thats right, you can't just add up the votes at the polling places. A complex algorithm is used to weigh each 2nd and 3rd choice - sorting, allocating, eliminating and reallocating votes until finally the deck is shuffled all into one pile and a winner announced. The complexity of counting IRV ballots leads to great logistical problems and time-delays. It is so complex that the validity of the results is not verifiable. Who really won?

I wager that if you recounted this contest multiple times, you would get different results each time.

What about the voters? Voters had to rank their "runoff" choices without knowing which of the 13 candidates would be the "top two" in the runoff. So if a voter didn't rank either Thigpen(D) or McCullough(R) for any of the 3 choices, then that voter was shut out of the runoff.

The state's IRV procedures violate the intent and statutes of the Public Confidence in Elections Act, a law passed in 2005 to protect North Carolina's voters and votes from voting machine software flaws and miscounts. This law was passed to prevent headlines such as we saw in 2004:

"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

Our situation was dire indeed: "NC has the worst election problem in the country right now." -- Computer scientist Dr. David L. Dill of Stanford University, about the votes lost in Carteret County. November 11, 2004.

We cannot implement IRV in North Carolina without exposing our future elections to fiascos as occurred in 2004, where over 50,000 votes were mis tallied - some missing, some double counted, some lost forever.

We warned you *before* 2004 that computer vote counting could result in lost or inaccurate vote tallies, and pushed for paper ballots and standards for voting vendors and systems. No one listened to us until the Nov 2004 fiasco.

We warned you ahead of time that this statewide IRV contest 1) was error prone and violated election transparency laws; and 2) we told you that IRV voting for this contest was akin to participating in a crap shoot.

IRV is very bad for democracy, very bad for voters, and sets a terrible precedent of non transparent unverifiable voting. If the objective of an election process is to discern the will of the voters, then that process must be the simplest, most transparent and most enfranchising method for all voters.

More more information about the problems with instant runoff voting see our website at

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