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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dopp - N.Carolina's Instant Runoff Voting Election 'eviscerates election transparency'

Editor's note. With instant runoff voting, the loser had 100,000 more votes than the winner. We just recently obtained the 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice vote -totals- for all candidates in NC's statewide IRV contest for NC Court of Appeals. IRV is unpredictable and basic rules of elections, like the person with the most votes wins - do not apply. The saving grace here is that the "winner" is qualified to serve and the "loser" received another appointment to the bench.

From Kathy Dopp, President of US Counts Votes and Election Mathematics:

Thigpen lost even though he still had the most votes by nearly 100,000:

718,042 for Thigpen
618,431 for McCullough

In North Carolina, Doug McCullough won the IRV judicial election contest even though:

1. McCullough had *fewer* first place votes than Cressie Thigpen;
2. McCullough had *fewer* first + second place votes than Cressie Thigpen; and
3. McCullough had *fewer* first + second + third place votes than
Cressie Thigpen.


MCCullough (the "winner")
1st choice 295,619
2nd choice 157,310
3rd choice 165,802

Thigpen (the "loser")
1st choice 395,220
2nd choice 162,795
3rd choice 160,027

Here is the data obtained by a journalist directly from NC State Board of Elections.

1. Total number of 1st place votes for McCullough 295,619
Total # 1st place votes for Thigpen 395.220

2. Total # 1st + 2nd place votes for McCullough 452,929
Total # 1st + 2nd place votes for Thigpen 558,015

3. Total # 1st + 2nd + 3rd place votes for McCullough 618,731
Total # 1st + 2nd + 3rd place votes for Thigpen 718,042

If this a FAIR election outcome? It would be extremely difficult to make a case that this result if fair, but it is typical, given IRV unfair method of counting the 2nd and 3rd rank choices of some, but not all, voters.

Did NC election officials count the IRV contest incorrectly in NC or is this simply one of the typically unfair outcomes that IRV counting methods produce?

The good news is that North Carolina may be safe from the scourge of IRV counting methods for a few generations. NC at least will not be trying IRV again, according to state election officials.

We will never know the answers to these questions because we are unlikely to ever be able to obtain the detailed list of all voters' choices in NC for this contest. I doubt that even the NC State Board of Elections will be able to obtain that in a usable format.

This NC election not only demonstrates how IRV eviscerates election transparency, but how fundamentally unfair the outcomes of an IRV election often are.

If anyone would like a copy of the original data I obtained that comes from the NC Board of Elections listing the sums of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice votes for each candidate by county and by precinct, please let me know.

The email below was forwarded to me and prompted me to investigate for myself and determine the number of total 1st and 2nd choice votes for each candidates.

The odd IRV numbers
Posted by Doug Clark on Thursday, January 6, 2011 Greensboro News and Record.

"I think we've seen the last of IRV voting in North Carolina," State
Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett told me this week.

I hope so. And I'm going to beat the dying horse a little more just
for good measure.

IRV — Instant Runoff Voting — was used in a special election for a
Court of Appeals seat in November. You might remember there was a
field of 13 candidates and you voted for your first, second and third

Bartlett drew his opinion not because elections officials mishandled
this special election and its complex, confusing procedures but
because it was unpopular. Leading legislators and the governor didn't
like it, and there's a good chance they'll drop the flirtation with
this odd brand of voting.

The outcome sure was strange.

The result on election night was that Cressie Thigpen led with 395.220
first-choice votes, or 20 percent of the total.

Doug McCullough was second with 295,619 votes, or 15 percent.

Because Thigpen didn't win a majority, he and McCullough advanced to
the "instant runoff." This was neither instant nor a runoff. Rather,
it meant that second- and third-choice votes would be added to their
totals to decide the ultimate winner.

About seven weeks later, that was determined to be McCullough with
543,980 votes, edging Thigpen, who had 537,325.

McCullough had turned a deficit of nearly 100,000 votes into a winning
margin of 6,655 votes.

But here's a funny thing. Bartlett sent me raw vote totals last week:
the numbers of 1, 2 and 3 votes for all 13 candidates in all 100
counties. When I got around to adding them up, I found that Thigpen
still had the most votes by nearly 100,000:

718,042 for Thigpen

618,431 for McCullough.

How was that?

The raw vote totals include about a quarter-million votes that were
tossed out in the second round of counting.

Some of those were multiple votes for one candidate. For example, if
anyone used his first, second and third votes for Thigpen, all three
votes are included in the raw total but only one would count in the
official tally.

Also, voters whose first choice was Thigpen or McCullough had their
ballots discarded at that point. For example, if someone voted for
Thigpen as first choice and McCullough as second choice, the vote for
McCullough was not counted in the second round of counting. The idea
was that this voter should not have his second-choice vote cancel his
first-choice vote.

So, for one reason or the other, Thigpen lost 180,717 votes;
McCullough lost only 74,451 votes — a huge difference that
statisticians might suggest was improbable.

Thigpen must have had more people who voted for him multiple times
than did McCullough. And more of McCullough's first-choice voters must
have given their second- or third-choice votes to Thigpen than the
other way around. Either way, the math worked out very badly for

Analyzing exactly what happened — an exercise the legislature's
program evaluation division should undertake — would require examining
all ballots and finding out exactly how people voted.

My conclusion is it was convoluted, delivering a result that is hard
to understand. It will be better to put this horse out to pasture.

NC IRV Court of Appeals Vote totals in excel file here

Kathy Dopp
Town of Colonie, NY 12304
"One of the best ways to keep any conversation civil is to support the
discussion with true facts."

Fundamentals of Verifiable Elections

Realities Mar Instant Runoff Voting

View some of my research on my SSRN Author page:

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