Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Majority for 2 out of 3 Instant Runoff winners in Pierce County Washington

Another Instant Runoff Voting myth busted - again. This time it is the myth that instant runoff or ranked choice voting result in majority winners.

Voting activist Chris Telesca has a fascinating analysis of the Pierce County Washington's first Ranked Choice Voting election. (Also known as RCV and or Instant Runoff.)

Chris found that 2 of the 3 winners in the Pierce Co election won without a majority of the votes. Chris has a breakdown of the votes at his blog:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV "winners" don't have a true majority
Pierce County WA claims to have winners in their RCV races - but were they real majority wins?It doesn't appear so in more than one race....Out of a total of 312,771 ballots cast, there were 299,132 votes that were counted. No one got over 50% of the votes.

If you go over to his blog, Chris shows you how smoke and mirrors are used to create the facade of a majority, by pretending some votes weren't really there.

Ranked choice voting, instant runoff voting, whatever you want to call it, it is just smoke and mirrors.

Smoke and mirrors is a metaphor for a deceptive, fraudulent or insubstantial explanation or description. The source of the name is based on magicians' illusions, where magicians make objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors amid a confusing burst of smoke. The expression may have a connotation of virtuosity or cleverness in carrying out such a deception

Instant Runoff Voting - as a tool to get rid of recounts??? Bad idea for elections

Another bad idea for elections. Promoting the adoption of instant runoff voting as a way to get rid of election recounts. First of all, its wrong because it doesn't work that way, and second, its a bad idea.

I get very upset when I see a piece in a major news paper praising the idea of eliminating election recounts. And it really disturbs me to see an activist movement ignorantly promoting that bad idea (eliminating recounts) as a reason to adopt instant runoff voting. I am sure that the voting vendors would love the idea -especially Diebold, whose software turns out to have a flaw that "sometimes" subtracts or erases votes.

The latest talking point to try to promote Instant Runoff Voting, aka IRV, aka Ranked Choice Voting is that it would eliminate the need for recounts. As if that is a desirable thing! Recounts are necessary in a healthy democracy. Without recounts, or the possibility (threat) of recounts, there can be no transparency in elections.

Your View: Instant runoff cheaper than recount Mankato Free Press, MN - ...Second, would be to institute IRV voting — this is instant runoff voting or ranked voting. This totally eliminates the need for a recount. ...

How about some cheese with that baloney!

The claim that IRV "totally eliminates the need for a recount" is flat out false!
If an election is close enough, a recount can be called, unless the standards for recounts are thrown away! Recounts are necessary and desirable for healthy, transparent and open elections.

Close contests DO happen with IRV, just as with any other type of election.
A fine example would be the IRV experiment in Cary, North Carolina City Council election in October 2007. The election was really close:

Recount widens Frantz lead in Cary October 12, 2007 “A double-checking of votes today in Cary's razor-thin District B Town Council election showed that Don Frantz appears to be the unofficial winner after all…Because dozens of provisional ballots had yet to be verified, a Maxwell victory could not be ruled out.Across Cary, a total of 52 provisional votes have yet to be tallied -- not all of which are expected to involve District B, because there were three other council races that day.” Oct 12, 2007

The ballots ended up being recounted because of mistakes made in the tallying. (IRV is hard to count)

"Critics Take Runoff Concerns to Elections Board" NBC 17 Tuesday, Oct 30, 2007 - 07:29

...What IRV does is violate one of the basic principals of election integrity, which is simplicity," said Perry Woods, a political consultant in Cary.

He says a small glitch threw everything into turmoil.

Basically, someone counted the same group of votes twice; the error was caught, and corrected after an audit.

Woods says his problem is with how they conducted that audit.

"In this case, they ended up recounting all the ballots again and calling it an audit," said Woods. "I felt like if they were doing that, the public should have been involved, so no doubt is there."

What IRV DOES do is make manual recounts extremely expensive, slow, and error prone.

Why IS instant runoff so hard to count? Because IRV is not additive. There is no such thing as a "subtotal" in IRV. In IRV every single vote may have to be sent individually to the central agency... each individual ballot has to be considered when deciding which ones advance to the "next round". The ballots cannot be counted at the polling places so it opens the door to wholesale fraud and error due to the complexity and need for centralization of the required tabulation process.

I am not opposed to a voting method that is simple to count and fair and monotonic and solves the spoiler problem, etc. But IRV is not simple to count, and it is "non monotonic", meaning that you can hurt your preferred candidate by voting for him or her! Many alternative voting methods solve the spoiler issue completely (unlike IRV and STV that do not solve the spoiler problem) and also still let voters fully express their voting preferences - i.e. do not seem to have any first amendment issues, equal treatment issues, or fairness issues.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Majority of Pierce County voters disliked Instant Runoff Voting, 91,000 surveyed

Pierce County Washington held its first Ranked Choice Voting election, also called Instant runoff, this past November. 91,000 voters received a survey form with their mail in ballots. A majority of them rejected Instant Runoff. The auditor cites cost of IRV as equal to half of what it cost the county to put on the 2008 General Election. Another criticism is that it took around 2 1/2 weeks to get the results of the IRV election. It certainly isn't instant!

Results are in: 63 percent disliked Ranked Choice Voting
Auditor defends ranked choice

Published: December 6th, 2008 12:05 AM Updated: December 6th, 2008 01:45 AM

Pierce County spent a lot of money on a new voting method for a few county offices in November’s election, and most voters didn’t like it a bit.

Auditor Pat McCarthy said ranked-choice voting will cost county taxpayers about $1.7 million, which is half of the overall $3.4 million it cost to put on the 2008 general election.

Although Pierce County voters changed the county charter last year to allow the new voting method, it appears they’ve changed their collective mind. Two of three voters who responded to a survey were opposed to the concept.

“It was overwhelming,” McCarthy told members of the state Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee on Friday. “The majority did not like it.”
That was based on nearly 91,000 voters who filled out a questionnaire that accompanied mail-in ballots.

...more at the link

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two and a half weeks to count Instant Runoff Voting in Pierce Co and San Francisco

Not so Instant Runoff Voting. 2 and 1/2 weeks later, they were STILL counting the instant runoff votes from the November 4th election. I guess that is why San Francisco changed the name to "Ranked Choice Voting" as did Pierce County. These jurisdictions requested exceptions to their states' standards for voting systems in order to get IRV compatible voting software. These machines were used even though Pierce County found 3 separate and serious flaws in the software.

As of Friday, Nov 23rd, Pierce County was still tabulating the votes:
"Official algorithm results available Tuesday, November 25, 2008."

As of Friday, Nov 23rd, San Francisco's seven districts were still counting IRV ballots:

No candidate in this contest has received a majority of first-choice selections from the ballots counted as of today.

In order to release this preliminary report, the ranked-choice voting method was applied to this contest using the votes counted as of today. No candidate is being declared the winner or being eliminated from the contest. As in all elections, the Department will count all ballots cast in the election for this contest before determining the winner.

This is a preliminary report and it does not represent the final result for this contest
Last Updated: 11/21/2008

3rd bug found in Pierce County Instant Runoff Voting System

Pierce County Washington is up to "software bug number 3" in their new Instant Runoff Voting system. We blogged earlier this year about two other major software bugs in Pierce County's IRV voting system, first in June and then in September of 2008. Now there is a report of a third software bug in Pierce County's instant runoff voting software. This time it is a capacity issue - the software can't handle more than 200,000 votes at a time. This is a real problem since with IRV you end up with often 3 times as many votes as normal, capacity is a very real issue. These flaws may also affect San Francisco's IRV voting systems, as the voting systems are Sequoia Insight Optical scanners using WinEDS tabulating software. And San Francisco has around 430,000 registered voters.

Once you legislate IRV, you are backed into a corner. Politicians and the media press hard for "instant results" that can't be provided for weeks.

When a jurisdiction adopts "instant runoff voting" they find out that it is too laborious and complicated to count by hand. That leaves them searching for voting machines that can do the job. Right now, there are no voting systems in the US that are federally certified to count IRV. Earlier this year, Pierce County officials requested emergency certification of IRV software that had bugs in it because "they tried hand-counting just 14 RCV ballots with seven ranked contests and found that it was “horrendous.” Using software to tally this sort of balloting was absolutely essential." Ironically, it took Pierce County Washington and San Francisco California several weeks to count their "instant runoffs".

Bug number 2: Saturday, September 13, 2008 Pierce County Instant Runoff System has new bug, says Washington SOS - may affect San Francisco ...This email from the Secretary of State of Washington outlines another bug in the new IRV voting system for Pierce County. It affects "rank choice voting" (IRV/Instant Runoff) only.

Bug number 1: Friday, June 27, 2008 Instant runoff forces Pierce County Washington to use uncertified voting systems ... As you can imagine, we objected to having a system certified when, in testing, it reported that there were "zero votes" to start, but actually had 56 votes already in its secret, unobservable "ballot box"!

The Sequoia IRV software has a capacity issue in uploading and tabulating about 200,000 votes. Here is communication from an office of the Washington Secretary of State's office regarding the problem.


Bug number 3: From John Gideon on November 10, 2008

For those of you who are in states that use Sequoia and that may, in the future, be using WinEDS 4.0 here is some information from WA state where that version was used to support IRV in Pierce Co, WA. This is a string of emails between Ellen and a member of the SOS voting systems staff:

F.Y.I. – Sequoia has updated their documentation regarding the issue Pierce County ran into on Election Night -

Section 7.2.2 now contains the following recommendation:

Note: Excessively large 400-C batch loads may impede tally performance on election night. In extreme cases, the SQL memory, which is utilized for processing the tally, may be exceeded. In this situation, the following error message will display:

Tally process terminated early because of a trappable error.

If you receive this error, reduce the 400-C results batch size and re-import the results. Many factors, including the complexity of the election definition, can influence the allowable batch size that may be loaded. To ensure successful election night operations, Sequoia Voting Systems recommends loading 400-C results in batches not to exceed 25,000 ballots.

I have added this note to my certification folder so that we can make sure it is highlighted when we certify the WinEDS 4.0 system.


Patty Murphy Voting Systems Support

Office of the Secretary of State

(360) 902-4188 Fax (360) 664-4619

PO Box 40229 520 Union Ave NE Olympia, WA 98504

From: Murphy, Patty Sent: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:26 PM

To: 'Ellen Theisen' Cc: John Gideon; Miller, Paul; Hamlin, Shane

Subject: RE: Pierce County RCV

Hello Ellen,

Regarding the Nov. 6 article ( ) concerning delays with election results reporting in Pierce County – they were not hardware related. The memory that Pierce County added to the computer system was not actual physical memory. And it did not relate to the RCV algorithm, but it related to a miscommunication from the vendor to the county regarding moving results to the reporting system.

This is the vendor’s response -

Pierce encountered a delay on election night when they attempted to import their 400C results from WinETP (the tabulation server). WinEDS 4.0 (the reporting software) is designed to import 400C results in batch sizes on the order of 25,000 ballots or less. Pierce had consolidated all of their 400C results on WinETP into a single batch size of over 200,000 ballots. When they encountered the import constraint, we instructed them to increase their SQL Server memory configuration in order to successfully process the batch. This was a change made to the MS SQL Server configuration parameters only and had nothing to do with physical memory on the server computer.

This is another case of a vendor not communicating system usage limitations to a county. It was in no way Pierce County’s fault, but the vendor’s lack of proper communication regarding this upload protocol. However, the vendor responded quickly, and helped them solve the issue on election night. I’m sorry we didn’t catch this during testing – in retrospect, if I had thought to test combining all of our volume testing into one batch, and then uploading it to Win EDS for reporting, it may have caught this. This was partly an oversight on my part regarding the test scenario. I don’t think the national test laboratory would have caught this either because they would have uploaded results to Win EDS based on the vendor’s recommendation of 25,000 ballot batches.

So yes, reporting of results was delayed, but it was not due to a limitation in processing power, but a software limitation that was not properly communicated to the county. It is now properly documented in county procedures, and I have made a note to alert the other Sequioa counties to this protocol when the software is nationally certified and available for their use. (And when I say ‘limitation’ – it is not necessarily a bad thing. Uploading smaller batches has other benefits – more selective and efficient back out of batch loads, and audit comparison advantages when comparing Win ETP reports with Win EDS uploads.)

Let me know if you have any other questions. Patty Murphy Voting Systems Support Office of the Secretary of State (360) 902-4188 Fax (360) 664-4619 PO Box 40229 520 Union Ave NE Olympia, WA 98504

From: Ellen Theisen

Sent: Monday, November 10, 2008 9:24 AM To: Murphy, Patty Cc: John Gideon Subject: Pierce County RCV Patty, I was very disappointed to read in a November 6 news article regarding the memory that had to be added to the Pierce County system in the middle of tabulation:

"McCarthy said that while her office had tested the software previously, it did not test it with anywhere near the volume of ballots processed Tuesday. She said Pierce County is one of the first to use the software, so the problem could not have been foreseen."

But it was foreseen. If you remember, after the May hearing, I asked about that very issue.

I emailed you: "On the drive home, I was thinking about Denver in 2006, and trying to anticipate what RCV processing problems might come up that could be prevented. I began wondering whether the Pierce County system had sufficient processing power, disk storage, RAM, and cache to successfully do the processing required for 400,000 RCV ballots. It has to be significantly more stressful on a system than processing traditional ballots."

You responded: "Second, regarding processing power - the county purchased a new server, and when we extrapolated the processing power needed to cover the RCV ballots - they have plenty of power.

The RCV algorithm itself takes very little power in the CPU world." I do hope the extrapolation wasn't entrusted solely to Sequoia. Their estimate for what would be needed in Denver fell quite short. VotersUnite is in a position where we can sometimes pass on information to election officials based on the experiences of others. With that in mind, what else was learned from the experience in Pierce County that might be useful for other jurisdictions introducing RCV in the future?


Ellen Theisen Co-Director
-- John Gideon Co-Executive Director VotersUnite.Org

Instant runoff voting - counting by hand a nightmare?

Today in Voters Unite Daily news, John Gideon talks a little bit about IRV, aka Instant Runoff Voting. He says he has no opinion for or against IRV, but he does have a problem with the advocates who push for IRV even if it requires using voting machines and software that are proven to be defective (3 different bugs reported so far).. He also has a problem with a system that some election officials say is a nightmare to count by hand. (Emphasis below is mine.)

'Daily Voting News' For November 27 and 28, 2008

Guest Blogged by John Gideon of
I have been asked often about my position on Instant Runoff Voting [also known as Ranked Coice Voting]. My answer is always that I just haven’t formed an opinion on the basics of IRV. I do, however, have a problem with the fact that those who are avid supporters of IRV quite often favor IRV over voting system issues. They tend to be willing to turn a blind-eye to the use of voting systems that I would never support because there are no voting systems that actually support IRV that are federally certified. Two west-coast counties, Pierce in WA and San Francisco in CA, used Sequoia systems that were a mix and match of certified parts and tested parts that were never tested and certified to be used together. Officials in Minnesota are now talking about IRV for the future. When asked about a second or third count election officials said they would hand-count those ballots but officials who have done IRV say that would be a “huge nightmare”. One of the two west coast counties is even now thinking of going back to the voters to ask that IRV voting no longer be used. We agree with this position but only until there is a system that can actually count the ballots and not be a “huge nightmare”....

National: Hand-counting ballots in instant-runoff vote called 'huge nightmare’ http://www.startribune.c...aEP:kD:aUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

The rest of John Gideon's daily news is over here at Brad Blog

IRV advocates argue that it is simple to hand count IRV ballots, that Ireland and Australia do it all of the time. Well these two countries often have no more than one or two items on the ballot, and it can take a long time to count.

Instant Runoff was a disaster in Cary North Carolina
Instant runoff voting was not so great in Cary North CarolinaEven "one of the best Boards of Elections in the state of North Carolina" had trouble counting IRV ballots in the Cary NC in Oct 2007 and provisional ballots weren't counted until after all rounds!:

It was difficult to count just 3,000 ballots correctly. Officials had to manually tally the IRV results for the Cary, NC “instant runoff”. There was confusion during the counting and ballots were miscounted and not properly allocated to the candidates. Friday, the day after the "runoff" or count of the 2nd round, the election director performed an audit, according to the media. Errors were discovered and the audit extended into a full blown recount...

....According to Chris Telesca who observed the IRV counting in Wake County, NC, to hand-process a little over 3000 paper ballots (after the first choice votes were counted on the op-scan machines) when there were only 3 candidates plus a few write-ins for the Cary district B, single member town council seat, and the counting went only two rounds

it took 6 sorting stacks for each of 12 ballot groupings or precincts (8 precincts plus absentee by mail in Cary, board of elections one-stop site, the Cary one-stop site, provisional ballots- Cary, and possibly some transfer votes from another county which were eligible to vote in the Cary IRV contest) or 12 times 6 stacks = 72 stacks.

Wake County officials decided to put each stack in a separate plastic bag to keep track. This would not be possible if there were more than one IRV contest because each contest requires independent sorting and stacking to count.

The procedure was very complicated, but it was there in print. Even so, the Wake Board of Elections (BOE) didn’t follow it. There was no overhead projector so that observers could follow the process. Non Board members were sorting the ballots into stacks which was hard to follow. Nonetheless, observers and the Board came up with different totals at the end of the day. The next day, the different totals were determined to be caused by a calculator error that was discovered in an “audit” – that also discovered a few missing votes...

Just 3,000 ballots!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Instant runoff snag: San Francisco's voting machines STILL not approved

This is the most recent or current update on San Francisco's voting machine situation.

San Francisco entered into a $12 million contract with Sequoia voting systems, in order to replace other equiptment that failed to standards and to automate the counting of the Instant Runoff ballots. It looks like San Francisco still cannot use its brand new voting systems, purchased especially for their "IRV" capability. Problems with Sequoia machines Instant Runoff software have been found in testing performed in another IRV jurisdiction, in Pierce County Washington. (See Pierce County Instant Runoff Voting System has new bug, says WA ...)

San Francisco is still waiting to see if they can use their voting equipment. The city might not be able to offer "accessible" voting machines at all, unless the Secretary of State grants an exception to state certification standards.

RCV Update #3: November 4, 2008 Election
Honorable Gavin Newsom, Mayor
Honorable Members, Board of Supervisors

From: John Arntz, Director of Elections
Date: October 6, 2008

RE: Ranked-Choice Voting Update #3: November 4, 2008 Consolidated General Election
On Friday, September 26, the Secretary of State’s office held a hearing to consider whether to approve Sequoia Voting Systems’ optical scan equipment and software with ranked-choice voting (RCV) capabilities. Presented at the hearing was the staff report issued from the Secretary of State’s Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment which recommended that the system be certified.

Although no ballots are tallied using the optical scan equipment and software until several more weeks, the certification has an important impact on our using the touch screen equipment for early voting. Due to certification requirements, the optical scan equipment and the touch screen equipment cannot be certified simultaneously for this election. Thus, if the Secretary certifies the optical scan system, the Department will request the use of the touch screen equipment be used as part of a “blended” system with the newly certified optical scan system.

The policy of the Secretary of State office is to not discuss the status of voting systems being considered for certification. Still, it is possible that the Secretary will make a final determination during the current week, perhaps even during the first half of this week. If the Secretary grants her approval of the system, the Department will formally request to use its touch screen equipment as a blended system for use in conjunction with the newly approved optical scan system. The time involved in the Secretary’s consideration of using the touch screen equipment as a component of a blended system most likely will of short duration.

The Department is presently unable to offer accessible voting equipment for use during early voting, which began this morning. For all voters visiting City Hall and voting, the Department will issue paper ballots. I will be glad to provide answers to any questions you might have on these matters.

cc: Dennis Herrera, City AttorneyBen Rosenfield, ControllerEdwin Lee, City AdministratorSteve Kawa, Chief of Staff, Mayor’s OfficeAngela Calvillo, Clerk of the Board of SupervisorsGreg Wagner, Budget Analyst, Mayor’s OfficeMollie Lee, Deputy City Attorney Elections Commission

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Instant Runoff Lawsuit Heads to Court in Minnesota

The Minnesota Voters Alliance's lawsuit heading to Hennepin County Minnesota District Court argues that Instant Runoff Voting is unconstitutional. IRV was adopted by referendum in Minneapolis Minnesota. The city of St. Paul, MN had received a petition to let their voters decide on whether to adopt IRV, but attorneys advised that IRV was probably unconstitional, and recommended not putting the referendum on the city ballot until the Hennepin County case was settled.

Instant runoff voting heads to court
by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio October 8, 2008

...St. Paul, Minn. — The idea seems simple enough. Instead of making voters pick one candidate, instant runoff voting lets voters rank candidates by preference. In theory, it would avert controversies such as the 2000 presidential race, when Green Party contender Ralph Nader was called a spoiler. Instant runoff voting would have let his supporters still vote for him - even though his chances of winning were slim - and also choose between the top two contenders. San Franscisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts already use similar systems. But it's not as simple as it sounds. A plan to change the way Minneapolis votes, and maybe the way the whole state votes, is raising doubts. Opponents have raised legal, political and even mathematical questions about the method. And, they're heading for a constitutional showdown before Hennepin County District Court Judge George McGunnigle.

...Andy Cilek is with the Minnesota Voters Alliance and his group is suing Minneapolis to block IRV. He said ballots are for picking winners and losers and that IRV will interfere with the way that's supposed to happen. By ranking other candidates, Cilek argues, a voter may wind up hurting the candidate he or she favors most.

On the other hand, a voter simply might not find a second choice acceptable. Cilek said that if one voter doesn't rank the rest of the field, and a neighbor does, the neighbor effectively gets more votes, Cilek says.

The Voters Alliance said that violates the constitutional principal of "one person, one vote." And that's the basis of the legal challenge in Minneapolis.
...more at the link

Friday, September 19, 2008

San Francisco Election Looms, Voting Machines Not Yet Approved for Instant Runoff

San Francisco's elections chief, John Arntz, expects the largest voter turnout in city history this November. Unfortunately, the city's voting machines may not be approved in time. If the machines aren't certified to count the IRV contests, then the seven supervisorial races will have to be counted by hand. That could take weeks, says this article:

Voting concerns loom with election nearing
By Beth Winegarner Examiner Staff Writer 9/17/08

Elections director John Arntz is always nervous when election season looms, but in November he’s anticipating the largest voter turnout in San Francisco history — and those voters may be using new voting machines that still have not been certified by the state. ...

...“If the touch-screen machines aren’t certified, paper ballots will be here and voting will continue,” Arntz said. “But someone who required disabled-accessible equipment wouldn’t be able to vote.”

...San Francisco signed a $12.6 million contract in December to purchase the new electronic voting machines from Oakland-based Sequoia. Last November, local ballots had to be hand counted after machines from The City’s previous vendor, Election Systems & Software, were not certified in time, which led to a $3.5 million lawsuit settlement between San Francisco and ES&S.

If Sequoia’s ranked-choice software is not approved, Bowen will allow San Francisco to use Sequoia machines to tally everything except the seven supervisorial races, according to Arntz.

Due to the complicated nature of ranked-choice tabulations, hand-counting ballots to determine the winners among 51 Board of Supervisors candidates in seven districts could take weeks. If that happens, Sequoia has agreed to pay for the hand count, Arntz said.

...more at the link

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Instant Runoff Voting: Not Saving Money & Politics Nasty As Usual In San Francisco

Four years later, we hear that IRV still hasn't saved San Francisco money, in fact it is costing money, and politics is as nasty as ever:

The City's Voting Machines STILL Uncertified? Yes We Can! Aug 28, 08 Greg Dewar

One of the bigger lies that was told during the campaign to force IRV/RCV/WTF down everyone's throats was that the system would "save money," because it would mean no runoff election.

Well, once again, that absurd little promise is proving once again to be false. Last year we had to hand count and re-do people's ballots for them, all by hand, because of problems with our voting systems. Now, the ugly little problem no one wants to talk about rears its head again, as it's been revealed NONE of the City's voting machines are certified for use. Yes, really.

...Last year we saw the specter of IRV/RCV/WTF advocates actually attacking Secretary of State Bowen for doing her job to maintain the integrity of the election system - because they wanted to defend their ideological vies, voter rights be damned. Look for a repeat performance this year.

IRV/RCV/WTF's many promises have mostly been proven false as the system has been implemented. Campaigns are NOT nicer, the top vote getter on Election night wins anyway, incumbents are ensured re-election (thus essentially giving all elected officials 8 year terms) and the crowded podium at debates and in news coverage ensures that the discussion of complex city policy is reduced to 15 and 30 second soundbites at endless "debates" that tell you nothing about what these people plan to do. That is, when we even bother to have people run against each other.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and racial minorities

Warren Smith at the Center for Range Voting analyzed the minority representation in Australia, a country that has used IRV for decades. Here is an excerpt, there is an entire webpage with charts and even pictures showing that Australia is electing caucasions only with IRV.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and racial minorities

It has sometimes been stated (falsely) by IRV-propagandists, that IRV helps minorities. But in fact, the available evidence indicates it hurts them.

[Skip to conclusion] [About the (unrelated?) fact IRV favors "extremists"]

To see this, we shall compare minority representation in federal IRV-elected and plurality-elected seats versus the minority percentages in the population at large, in the top IRV-using country (Australia) and the top two plurality-using countries (USA & UK) in years 2005-2008. We find, e.g, that there are zero racial-minority IRV seatholders...

...So given this, we suggest to you that based on the data that we have, and until any evidence comes along to the contrary, you should conclude that IRV disfavors racial minorities.

Please see the rest of this fascinating study here:

A little about Warren D. Smith:

Warren D. Smith Temple University Math Dept. Wachman Hall, Room 428, 1805 North Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19122.


Ph.D. (Applied Math) Princeton 1988
Ph.D. Thesis: ``Studies in computational geometry motivated by mesh generation,'' (485 pp.) Advisors: J.H. Conway & R.E. Tarjan, Princeton University.
Can order copy from University Microfilms International, via their online web server UMI "dissertation express", at cost $29.50 US (as of 1998) and with delivery in 4-5 days. UMI's order number for my PhD thesis is 9002713. (Also: UMI phone orders 800-521-0600 extension 3781.)
M.A. (Applied Math) Princeton 1986
B.Sc. (Physics) 1984 & B.Sc. (Math) 1984 (double major) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (4.7/5 GPA. Also got perfect scores on both the Physics and Math special subject "GRE" tests.)
B.Sc. Thesis: ``Learning and Rating Systems.'' Advisor: Richard P. Stanley.
Took 4 semesters of German; and 2 of Spanish at M.I.T.; 1 semester of private Japanese course at NEC. Can read papers in German & Spanish (especially with aid of a dictionary...).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pierce County Instant Runoff System has new bug, says Washington SOS - may affect San Francisco

This email from the Secretary of State of Washington outlines another bug in the new IRV voting system for Pierce County. It affects "rank choice voting" (IRV/Instant Runoff) only. Pierce County Washington adopted "instant runoff voting" in November 2006. In May 2008, officials were backed into a corner and ended up getting permission to use uncertified IRV software, violating their own state's laws.

Pierce county has Sequoia "Insight" optical scanners and DREs. The tabulating software, WinEDS 4.0.34 is still under test by iBeta. There is not even a test plan presented to the EAC for this system at this time. Washington State provisionally certified this software for use even after finding that there were problems with the use of the Insight machines when used in the RCV process. San Francisco is also using this system, and currently it is not certified in California to count IRV. San Francisco officials still don't know how they will count their "ranked choice" voting in November 2008.

Here's the email (Thanks to John Gideon of for sharing)

Dear Team,

It has come to our attention that there is a very rare occurrence of a problem with the Rank Choice Voting results loading with Pierce County’s provisionally certified software.
This occurrence is very rare, and did not present itself with the election definition we tested during the Emergency Certification testing at Pierce County. It does not affect the reporting of Election Night results including both Ranked and non-Ranked Choice contests. Should this condition occur with the General Election, it would only affect the Ranked Choice Voting reduction algorithm, and would be easily caught during normal results checking procedures at the time the Ranked Choice contests are processed.

However, if this condition occurs, the recovery process would be an extremely time consuming manual process. Given the nature of the problem, our preferred approach for ensuring the successful and efficient processing of Ranked Choice results is to apply a minor coding change to a single, isolated component of the election software. A detailed description of the problem is below.

Our office has instructed Sequoia to apply the fix to Pierce County’s provisionally certified software so that we can test it. We have also instructed iBeta, a nationally certified Voting System Test Laboratory(VSTL), to review the modification to the source code and verify that the minor change required, and only the change required, is applied to the provisionally certified code used for build 108 presently installed at Pierce County. We have also instructed iBeta to witness a new build of the software with the change applied. This new build will be installed at Pierce County after we test it here at our office.

We will be testing the modified software at our office on Wednesday,September 17th at 10 AM. We have posted a public notice of this testing.Since you were present during the initial testing, we wanted to alert you to this modification in case you wanted to be present at this test.The county will also be thoroughly pre-testing the General Election results, and we will be present during the Logic and Accuracy test,currently scheduled for October 13, 1:00 PM.

Bob – I’d like to respectfully request your presence at this test, if possible. Any other members of the public are welcome also. I’d like Bob to be present because of his experience with the Provisional Certification, his knowledge of technical issues, and his ability to explain technical processes in user friendly terms. Bob – please let me know if this is possible.

I will keep this group informed of the results of the test, and be happy to answer any questions you may have.


During additional testing of Sequoia Voting System v 4.0, including Rank Choice Voting, Sequoia Voting Systems’ testing engineers found a discrepancy in the Rank Choice Voting module results. After careful examination, it was determined that a field in the Preferential Data File was not initialized before loading data into this from Edge results cartridges. This file is used by the Rank Choice Voting module. Because this field was not initialized, errant data present in computer memory was introduced into the Preferential Data File. If the errant data included certain characters, i.e. carriage return, the carriage return would cause incomplete loading of Edge results into the Rank Choice Voting module. This incomplete load results in missing data from the Rank Choice Voting module.

This condition does not affect the loading of results into WinEDS for the purpose of Election Night summary reporting for any contest including the first rank choices for Ranked Choice Voting contests. Furthermore, this condition has no affect on individual Edge machine results reports.

The modification involves a coding change to initialize the field to clear out any errant characters so that they do not get introduced into the preferential data file before results are loaded into the RCV module.

iBeta will verify the following source code changes:

avcedge.rc: OCX file version is updated from to
preftally.cpp Initialization added to the write-in field.

Our office will observe the software behavior before the modification and identify the errant characters. If possible we will witness the effect of the carriage return character on the loading of results into the RCV module.

After the update is applied we will verify that the errant characters are no longer present, and that the RCV module is fully functional.

Once this update is installed at Pierce County, the county will verify that RCV results have fully loaded in both their pre-testing and official Logic and Accuracy test with the state.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,

**Patty Murphy****
Voting Systems Support
Office of the Secretary of State
(360) 902-4188
Fax (360) 664-4619
PO Box 40229
520 Union Ave NE Olympia, WA 98504


related stories:

July 9, 2008 Instant runoff update for San Francisco: federal agency unlikely to certify any voting systems before November
June 27, 2008 Instant runoff forces Pierce County Washington to use uncertified voting systems

Monday, September 8, 2008

San Franciscans rejecting Instant Runoff Voting after 4 years of it

Letter from San Francisco: Politicos turning against Instant Runoff and Politics are nasty as ever

Yep, one of the "progressives" who pushed for IRV no longer believes in it. Here's a letter from a blogger who lives in San Francisco, the largest IRV jurisdiction in the country. Supervisor. Daly is one of the "progressives" who pushed for IRV. Blogger H. Brown says now Daly is against IRV because he wants to try and control votes. He even advocated "bullet voting" - something you CAN'T DO under IRV.

From: "h. brown"
Date: September 5, 2008 5:36:55 AM PDT
Subject: Tenants Union stabs Sanchez

Morning boys and girls,

Ed Jew won his seat in D-4 by telling all Chinese voters to ONLY vote for Chinese candidates. Ugly and racist it is true. But, it worked.

It worked because Jew realized that in a tight
race no candidate was likely to get 50% of the vote and second and third choices allowed under the City's IRV (Ranked Choice) system ...

the system could help elect a member of a 3-slate card while leaving lone wolves to die in the snow a few percentage points from the finish line (you hear me, Ron Dudum?). This
morning Fog City Journal reported that the Tenants Union will not take advantage of IRV.

Chris Daly and Ted Gullickson do not understand
this. Daly, in fact, has gone so far as to pressure the top ranked Progressive in the D-9 race (Mark Sanchez) to drop out of the race entirely so that Chris' choice (Eric Quezada) will (by Daly's reasoning) have the Progressive voter block to himself.

What Daly's tactics will do however is to insure that 'astro-turf' faux progressive David Campos will be elected. And, immediately vote for Bevan Dufty for Board President.

Daly has bragged that he controls the coveted
endorsements of both the Bay Guardian and the Tenants Union. And, that he doesn't believe in Ranked Choice voting. Ted Gullickson has joined him and the results could be disastrous for both the local Progressive movement and Daly's own shot at the Board presidency.

This is one of those 'I told you so' moments in
the making. Come January if Daly's tact fails and David Campos makes Daly the permanent Board rep to the SFUSD, I'll be saying it. "I told you so."


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Instant Runoff: Messing Up North Carolina Elections and Efforts to Reduce the Damage

Instant Runoff: Messing Up North Carolina Elections and Efforts to Reduce the Damage

More Instant runoff mess to deal with again. Another Instant Runoff Pilot for North Carolina? Yes, it is true, another IRV pilot was buried within a large omnibus election law bill and ultimately passed. (It would never have passed in a bill by itself).

Some lawmakers tried to amend it to delay or kill the experiment to 2011, but intense lobbying by well funded sources prevailed. Lawmakers were desperate to get out of session and go home, and several had items in the big bill that they cared about.The good news is that lawmakers put several restrictions on the pilot and will require that this pilot adhere to existing election laws.

WUNC has the story of a last ditch effort to kill the IRV pilot:

Instant runoff nearly went down in flames

Election Law Amendments S1263 passed easily, but the Instant Runoff Voting pilot section darn near went down in flames after Jackson Dem Phil Haire launched a cranky diatribe against the recent IRV near-meltdown in Cary. The pilot funding survived, but not by much and only after pleas for support on both sides of the aisle. Watch this one next year.

Rep Haire's amendment would have delayed the implementation of the IRV Pilots until 2012 ,which would have had the effect of killing the IRV pilot because the pilot, as described by law, is only provided for through 2011.The amendment failed 47-65, which at least shows that not all of our lawmakers are lemmings heading towards a cliff (and dragging us with them).

The fact is that our voting machines are not set up to handle IRV:On December 17, 2007 the State Board advised lawmakers that:

"Funding will be required for software development, after the pilot program is completed, if there is to be any future use of IRV voting in North Carolina elections."

And here's an email from the Voting Systems Project Manager for the State Board of Elections from June 17, 2008, stating that there just isn't any IRV software for North Carolina's voting machines.

From: Keith Long Cc: Don WrightSubject:

RE: 2nd request plse reply

FW: IRVsoftware for NC machines?

Date: Jun 17, 2008 7:55 AM

The EAC has not approved any software. There is NO software available for the ES&S equipment to count IRV voting! Keith Long, PMPNC Voting Systems

Lawmakers put restrictions on the IRV pilot this time, in order to (hopefully) ensure that the pilot is conducted within accordance of existing election laws, require that voter education is addressed (and funded!) and that jurisdictions cannot be forced by their Board of Elections into participating:

SECTION 3.(a)The State Board of Elections is authorized to select elections for offices of local government in which to use instant runoff voting in up to 10 local jurisdictions in each of the following years: 2009, 2010, and 2011. The selection of jurisdictions and administration of instant runoff voting shall follow the provisions of Section 1(a) of Session Law 2006‑192, except that the local governing board that is the subject of the election must approve participation in the pilot and also must agree to cooperate with the county board of elections and the Board in the development and implementation of a plan to educate candidates and voters about how to use the runoff voting method. In a multiseat contest, the Board shall modify the method used for instant runoff voting in single‑seat contests to apply its essential principles suitably to that election.

In the case of a board of education election where the "local governing board" must be asked to authorize instant runoff voting because nonpartisan plurality elections are normally used, the "local governing board" is the board of education itself. If instant runoff voting is used in place of the nonpartisan election and runoff method as described in G.S. 163‑293, the county board of elections, with the approval of the local governing board, may hold the election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The State Board of Elections, in consultation with the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, shall by January 1, 2009, develop for the pilot program authorized in this section goals, standards consistent with general election law, and criteria for implementation and evaluation. The pilot program shall be conducted according to those goals, standards, and criteria. SECTION 3.(b) This section is effective when it becomes law.

Is Instant Runoff Voting Hurting Minorities in Fair Vote's Home Town?

Is Instant Runoff Voting Hurting Minorities in Fair Vote's Home Town?
Ground Zero for IRV is also "Ground Zero" for minority representation in government. Zero meaning zilch, nada nothing.

The latest canard is that IRV helps minorities. A July 24 news article shows that this is not true, at least not in the home town of the Fair Vote Director, Rob Richie. The "IRV helps minorities" claim was used on the North Carolina State Legislature last month, and I believe it worked, even though it was challenged by Representative Angela Bryant.

Yes, "the truth is out there", right there in Fair Votes' own back yard. It turns out that Fair Vote Director Rob Richie's home town of Takoma Park Maryland, the home base for IRV, has Zero (0) zilch NADA - no minority representation. And voter turnout flat out sucks. A July 24 news article compares minority representation in the governments of 3 Maryland towns. Takoma Park is the loser.

Greenbelt mulls changes to its voting system Thursday July 24, 2008
...Takoma Park and College Park both have district systems, but each still has majority white councils. College Park has two women, one of whom is African-American...
"Takoma Park is 34 percent African-American.." yet "....Takoma Park, in Montgomery County, has no minority representative. "

Turnout in Takoma Park?

"Of the 17,299 total city population, only 1,010 people voted in the last City Council election."
....Takoma Park is divided into six voting districts. There are six council members and one mayor. All of its elected officials are white.

Takoma Park City Manager Barbara Burns Matthews admitted the council was not representative of the community according to census data, especially since the city has a large immigrant population.

One of the problems, Matthews said, is lack of contention. In the last election, only one district had multiple delegates running. The others only had one name on the ballot.
Doesn't this sound like San Francisco in 2007? Low turnout, stale stagnant politics with no real competition for the mayors contest, one candidate for DA, and 2 candidates for Sheriff?
Incumbent protection.

Is it worth it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is IRV vulnerable to legal challenges?

This was forwarded to me today by a group of concerned citizens who are opposing instant runoff voting in Minnesota:

INFORMATION BRIEF Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department
600 State Office Building St. Paul, MN 55155
Matt Gehring, Legislative Analyst 651-296-5052

February 2007Instant-Runoff Voting Is IRV vulnerable to legal challenges? (page 7 of this 7 page report)

"Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the authority to conduct elections in a manner of their choosing. Elections have historically been conducted by awarding the office to whichever candidate received the highest number of votes. This, however, is tradition and is not constitutionally required.

Any methods of voting must still comply with the rights enumerated under both the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions, including the "one person, one vote" principle. In 1915, a form of ranked voting was deemed unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court because it had the effect of giving some voters the weight of more than one vote relative to other voters in the same election.4 A court is more likely to declare unconstitutional any IRV method that has the effect of giving some voters more power than others, even if the voter is unaware of this disparity on election day. " end of doc

There are other election methods that might help empower third parties without all of the complications. See Technical Evaluation of Election Methods over at Minguo. Also see this elections reform site All About Voting.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Instant runoff update for San Francisco: federal agency unlikely to certify any voting systems before November

San Francisco may have to wait until next year to get to use the new IRV capable software according to the federal agency that handles that process.

This would affect any jurisdictions in the US who have adopted "instant runoff" but are awaiting implementation.

John Gideon of advises today that:

Matt Masterson, Testing and Certification Program AnalystU.S. Election Assistance Commission just sent me an email in which he said, "Brian Hancock has said in public, most recently at NASED, that it is unlikely a system would be certified in time for use in the November 2008 election."Any state or locale awaiting certification of a voting system so they can use it in November is out of luck, it appears.

I guess the Grand Jury's July 3rd recommendations were dead on when urging San Francisco's elections department to develop a backup plan.

Several other jurisdictions are awaiting federal certification of IRV capable software and or machines.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Instant runoff not understood by voters and poll workers says San Francisco Grand Jury report issued July 3

July 3, 2008. San Francisco.

After four years of instant runoff elections, some of San Francisco's poll workers and voters still do not understand IRV according to a recent Grand Jury report. Further, San Francisco's new IRV voting machines are not yet certified by the state so a back up plan is needed for the November election. The city also must provide more voter outreach. Disaster was averted in the Nov 2007 election since there was no need for an "instant runoff".

[Note: San Francisco is the largest jurisdiction in the US to have IRV, and they have had it for the longest, adopted in 2003, implemented in 2004. We know they spent $1.87 per voter and had 700 public outreach events the first year, for a city with around 418,000 reg voters. (Wake County has at least 460,000 +).]

The 2007-2008 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury review of five elections for the city/county of San Francisco

The report says that some voters and poll workers do not understand IRV, and that a back up plan is needed in case the new Sequoia system is not certified.

Excerpts of the Grand Jury Report

The 2007-2008 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury reviewed the materials provided by the Department of Elections for the November 2007 and February 2008 elections

Ranked-Choice Voting and Absentee (Vote By Mail) BallotsRCV ballots were used in the November 2007 election for the offices of Mayor, DistrictAttorney, and Sheriff. Some pollworkers and voters told the Jury that they did not understand how to vote for candidates where RCV ballots were used. In the November 2008 election, RCV ballots will be used for some local offices. Aditional education and outreach need to be provided to the voters to clarify the RCV process so that the ballots accurately reflect the intentions of the voters.

Findings:11. Some pollworkers and voters do not understand the procedures for voting for candidates where Ranked-Choice ballots are used.Findings14. While the DOE does meet these legal requirements, additional outreach efforts areneeded on voter registration requirements and deadlines, the Ranked-Choice Voting process and the requirements for submitting a valid Absentee Ballot.V Recommendations3. The DOE should publicly establish a date certain by which Sequoia must receive the Secretary of State's certification regarding the counting of RCV ballots. This date should be no later than September 15, 2008.

Response required: Department of Elections; Elections Commission

4. TO prepare for the possibility that Sequoia fails to obtain the required certification, DOEmust develop a contingency plan for counting RCV ballots, which should be in final form by October 6, 2008.

Response required: Department of Elections; Elections Commission

8. The DOE's outreach program needs to improve voter instructions on the Ranked-ChoiceVoting process and the use of Absentee Ballots.

Response required: Department of Elections; Elections Commission

9. In addition to established communication approaches, the DOE should explore enhance
techniques to communicate information on the less understood aspects of voting such as
partisan primary elections, Ranked-Choice Voting and Absentee Ballots.

Final Report and Certification of Election Results and Canvass Procedures - The
Secretary of State's certification of the Edge II machines requires the DOE to manually count all voter Verified Paper Audit Trails and compare those results to the machines electronic records.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

All for Instant runoff: How San Francisco almost got all touch screen voting

The charter for Instant runoff voting nearly forced touch-screen voting on San Franciscans. Elections supervisor, Jim Arntz worked to keep the city's optical scanners and have them made IRV capable. Arntz withstood massive pressure from Fair Vote (then called "The Center for Voting and Democracy" to switch to touch screen voting machines or central counting of the ballots. Fair Vote inferred that Arntz was a bumbler and not competent to do his job. From the Fair Vote webpage entitled "The Real Story: Seventeen Months of Fumbling and Bumbling by the SF Department of Elections and Elections Commission"

October 7
"Elections Director John Arntz goes against advice from his vendor, members of the Elections Commission, and staff from the Center for Voting and Democracy, and makes a decision to have ES&S upgrade the Optech Eagles (precinct-based scanner) for counting IRV ballots, rather than using the Optech IV-C (centralized scanner) or touch screens. "

Fair Vote argued that touch screens would be quicker, easier and could handle more rankings. They also argued if Arntz used optical scanners, the central count kind should be used, which would require hauling the ballots to a central location. They also criticized Arntz' estimated costs for voter education as being too high. When it took too long to get IRV implemented, Fair Vote sued.

Finding a way to automate IRV becomes an emergency for instant runoff advocates - hand counting, spending a lot of money on voter education, using optical scan - these all make IRV look bad (costly, difficult and time consuming). Using optical scanners would limit the number of rankings voters could make, another thing Fair Vote didn't like. Better to use touchscreens, no matter how insecure and impossible to audit or recount. IRV trumps election integrity.

If Arntz had bought touchscreens, he would have been forced to replace them later since they are now decertified across the state. In 2003/2004 touch screens did not even have paper trails. Since then, California SOS Debra Bowen ordered all touchscreens to be decertified for use except by disabled voters, and a 100% audit must be done of all of those ballots. Here is Fair Votes description of San Francisco's IRV implementation from their website.

The Real Story: Seventeen Months of Fumbling

and Bumbling by the SF Department of Elections and Elections Commission

Timelines, actions, inaction and poor decisions related to IRV implementation

Background: The Department of Elections, under its Director John Arntz, has made a series of poor decisions throughout the 17 months since instant runoff voting was passed on March 5, 2002. The Elections Commission, which was created little more than a month before the passage of instant runoff voting, has sat by ineffectually while their director has fumbled the ball.

Director John Arntz, who has been the director since the firing on April 22, 2002 of previous director Tammy Haygood, first began working at the Department of Elections in 1999 as a desk clerk, behind the counter answering phones and giving forms to the public. Previously he had ZERO election experience, and ZERO administrative or supervisorial experience. His previous employ had been writing product descriptions for a seafood company. The seven members of the Elections Commission also had very little election experience, prior to their current tenure. While one certainly can appreciate the way Director Arntz has climbed the internal ladder at the Department of Elections, his election experience is not deep, and the Commission's is even less.

To make matters worse, neither the Director nor the Commission has sought expertise or counsel of known experts in the field about how to implement instant runoff voting, just as it has failed to involve the public in many key decisions about elections, despite the clear lessons from the 2000 presidential elections about the value of greater transparency in election administration. Consequently, San Francisco has been treated to 17 months of fumbling and bumbling by the governmental agencies charged with fulfilling the will of the voters and implementing the law. This view was confirmed by Judge James Warren, who presided over the lawsuit filed against the City, and who characterized the Department's efforts as "fumbling" and "at best, bumpy and haphazard."

Below is a 17-month timeline of poor decisions and failures related to implementation of instant runoff voting, compiled from various letters and meeting notes. What follows is a remarkable record of the failure to heed the will of the voters.

Before going through the detailed chronology, here are two particularly poor decisions that directly threatened the success of IRV implementation:

October 7

Elections Director John Arntz goes against advice from his vendor, members of the Elections Commission, and staff from the Center for Voting and Democracy, and makes a decision to have ES&S upgrade the Optech Eagles (precinct-based scanner) for counting IRV ballots, rather than using the Optech IV-C (centralized scanner) or touch screens. Arntz rejects central scan solution because it requires transporting and handling ballots, rejects touch screen because he claims there is a lack of time and money. Yet in March he will create a "partial hand count" method that requires extensive transport and handling of ballots. And other counties implement their touch screen systems in a matter of a few months. This decision made the conversion of voting equipment far more difficult than it needed to be.

March, 2003

Dept of Elections submits its own application for its own designed procedure for counting IRV ballots, called a "partial hand count," to Secretary of State. This is meant as a backup plan, but it is untried and untested. CVD staff Steven Hill contacts John Arntz and tells him his method has problems. Hill tells Arntz that if he's going to design a "backup plan" that utilizes a manual tally, better to model it after the kind that has been used successfully for decades in Australia, Britain, and Ireland, utilizing paper ballots, a pure hand count, and no voting equipment. Arntz ignores this advice, he plunges forward with the flawed "Arntz method." Says Hill, "John Arntz reinvented a wheel that did not need to be reinvented, and he created a square wheel besides." The Arntz method later will be decisively rejected by the Secretary of State's office.


March 5
Proposition A passes with 55% of the vote, repealing December runoff elections and adopting instant runoff voting.


Meetings occur with Elections Director Tammy Haygood and members of the new Elections Commission (EC). Haygood states that she does not have the staff to implement IRV. It quickly becomes apparent that Haygood is not going to move quickly to implement IRV by Nov. 2002, and that Elections Commissioners do not know much about elections, much less IRV. Hence, they defer to their Director.

March 27

ES&S representative Joe Taggard (the city's voting equipment vendor) writes a letter to the Elections Commission, asking for guidelines regarding certain issues related to IRV implementation.

April 3

At the request of EC President Tom Schulz, Center for Voting and Democracy staff draft a letter responding to ES&S/Joe Taggard. But the EC does not mail out the letter until May 10.

April 22 Elections Commission fires its Elections Director Tammy Haygood. John Arntz, with little elections experience, is plucked to be acting director.

May 10 New EC President Michael Mendelson finally mails out April 3 letter responding to Taggard/ES&S. Another letter also mailed to SoS Elections Chief John Mott-Smith.

May 29 Letter from ES&S' Joe Taggard to the Elections Commission recommends one of two possibilities for implementing IRV in San Francisco: 1) utilizing existing equipment by counting the IRV ballots in a central location (not in the precincts) on the Optech IV-C high-speed scanners (not on the Optech Eagles), or 2) count IRV ballots in the precincts on ES&S touch screen equipment. Both of these technologies are more readily adaptable to IRV than precinct-based Optech Eagles.

June 5 Meeting of ad hoc task force for IRV implementation composed of Joe Taggard (ES&S), Michael Mendelson (Elections Commission), Brenda Stowers (Elections Commission), Steven Hill and Caleb Kleppner (Center for Voting and Democracy), Deputy City Attorney Julie Moll, and a few others to establish overall policy and guidelines.

June 10 Meeting with Michael Mendelson and representatives from Diebold (another voting equipment vendor). Diebold expresses interest and ability to implement IRV (they are the vendor that does the ranked ballot election in Cambridge, MA).

June 10 ES&S representative Joe Taggard e-mails a memo to Deputy City Attorney Julie Moll with a comparison chart that clearly demonstrates that touch screen voting equipment is the easiest and a relatively inexpensive method for running an IRV election due to availability of Prop 41 money for upgrading voting systems.

June 11 Meeting of the ad hoc task force for IRV implementation.

July 1 Acting Director John Arntz writes to Mayor Willie Brown asserting that he will exercise the charter-permitted option of not running an IRV election in November 2002. He states "Although the Department of Elections will introduce IRV in 2003, the Department will not delay its responsibility to plan for IRV."

July 9 ES&S presents its proposal for using Touch screens to implement IRV at meeting of ad hoc task force for IRV implementation.

July 19 Second meeting with vendor Diebold representatives in which they present their IRV solution. Diebold again expresses interest and ability to implement IRV.

August 26 ES&S presentation on ballot layout, IRV algorithm, and other issues.

September 4 Letter from ES&S - Joe Taggard once again outlines the difficulties of upgrading the Optech Eagles for the purposes of counting IRV ballots, and urges Director Arntz to go with other available options such as using touch screens.

September Michael Mendelson requests that Center for Voting and Democracy staff draw up implementation policies. Over the next month, CVD's Caleb Kleppner drafts memos related to ballot design, interpreting ballots, overall policy details (how to interpret skipped rankings, release of results, etc.), dealing with write-in votes, Logic and Accuracy testing, and more. Those memos mostly end up being ignored.

October 7 Meeting of Brenda Stowers, Julie Moll, John Arntz, Caleb Kleppner, and Steven Hill. Elections Director John Arntz makes decision to have ES&S upgrade the Eagles, rather than upgrade the Optech IV-C or use touchscreens. Arntz instructs Julie Moll to tell vendor to upgrade the Eagles and not to use a central scan or touch screen solution. Arntz rejects central scan solution because it requires transporting and handling of ballots, rejects touch screens because of lack of time and money (yet in March he will create a "partial hand count" method that requires extensive transport and handling of ballots. And other counties implement their touch screen systems in a matter of a few months, particularly with millions of dollars available from Prop 41 to pay for this). This ends up being a crucial decision that endangers the success of the IRV project.

October 15 Deputy City Attorney Julie Moll says a letter to ES&S has been mailed, asking ES&S if they can and will implement IRV on the Eagles. Otherwise, the City will have to seek another vendor.

October 16 Meeting with President of EC, Michael Mendelson.

Nov. 29 ES&S - Joe Taggard responds to letter of October 15, saying ES&S is willing to upgrade the precinct-based scanners known as Optech Eagles, but reiterates once again that touch screens or centralized scanners (Optech IV-C) is a better way to count IRV ballots. Nevertheless, Director Arntz opts for the difficult course of upgrading the precinct-based scanners, the Optech Eagles, which ES&S says will cost $1.5 million. Arntz's decision made the conversion of voting equipment far more difficult than it needed to be.

January 1
The original date for signing a contract for upgrading the Eagles comes and goes.
January 10 ES&S delivers its proposal for upgrading the Eagles with $1.5 million price tag
January 14 EC President Michael Mendelson tells Caleb Kleppner that contract between the City and ES&S will be signed in 10-14 days
January 21 first contract negotiating session
February 1 EC President Michael Mendelson says contract will be signed in 10 to 14 days
February 13 EC President Michael Mendelson says again that the contract will be signed in 10 to 14 days
February 19 EC President Michael Mendelson says once again that contract will be signed in 10 to 14 days. When Steve Hill reminds Mendelson that he said this nearly three weeks ago, Mendelson slams down the phone on Hill and refuses to speak to Hill again until April 2 at the Elections Commission meeting.

February The Department of Elections begins thinking about coming up with a "backup plan" in case for some reason the contract negotiations with ES&S don't work out or take too long.

February 19 Deputy City Attorney Julie Moll issues memo to John Arntz, stating that whether or not the department may "adopt its own rules for evaluation, testing and approval of a ranked-choice voting system" without approval from the Secretary of State is a legal gray area. Her memo states, "The California Constitution provides that charter cities such as San Francisco may govern their municipal affairs, including the manner and method of electing local officeholders. Cal. Const., Art. XI, " 5. When a charter city adopts a law governing municipal elections, and that law poses a genuine conflict with State law, the local law prevails unless the State law advances a matter of statewide concern "It is also possible that a court would conclude that all matters relating to the manner and operation of a charter city's voting system are municipal affairs."

March 4 Joe Taggard from ES&S says the contract will be signed in two weeks
March 5 At the Elections Commission meeting, President Michael Mendelson and Director John Arntz say the contract will be signed within two weeks.
March 14 Director John Arntz submits his own application for his designed procedure for counting IRV ballots, called a "partial hand count," to Secretary of State. This is meant as a backup plan, but it is untried and untested.

March 19 CVD staff Steven Hill tells John Arntz at Elections Commission meeting that his untried and untested "Arntz method" has problems. Hill tells Arntz that if he's going to design a "backup plan" that utilizes a manual tally, better to model it after the kind that has been used successfully for decades in Australia, Britain, and Ireland, utilizing paper ballots, a pure hand count, and no voting equipment. Hill tells Arntz this several times over the next two months, but Arntz ignores this advice. He plunges forward with the flawed "Arntz method." This ends up being the second crucial decision that endangers the success of the IRV project.

March 19 The Elections Commission says the contract will be signed next week.
March 26 Joe Taggard from ES&S says the contract will be signed in early April, with application for certification being made in June or July.
March 27 Secretary of State responds to March 14 application by the Department of Elections and requests additional info and money deposit.
March 31 City Attorney Dennis Herrera says signing the contract next week "is realistic."
April 1 Joe Taggard (from ES&S) says it's likely the contract will be signed April 10.
April 2 Elections Department representative Jennifer Novak says "we will probably sign next week;" Taggard says by the end of the month.
Apr 10 John Arntz sends Public Education Plan for IRV to Supervisor Sandoval. Arntz does not release it publicly or seek community input.
Apr 18 DOE responds to March 27 letter from Secretary of State and submits full application
April 30 Taggard, Arntz, Herrera all indicate the contract will be signed "next week."
April/May First the DOE cancels SoS hand count demo, then SoS cancels next meeting
May 16 Memo from John Mott-Smith requesting answers from Department of Elections to specific questions about election administration.
May 15 Arntz finally releases the Public Education Plan to the public. The Plan has a price tag of $2.9 million, a huge sum that everyone knows is "dead on arrival" at the Board of Supervisors, particularly given the budget deficit. There is much speculation that perhaps that is Arntz's intention.
May 23 Arntz responds to Mott-Smith's May 16 memo
June 2 ES&S delivers application to Secretary of State; Secretary of State says application in "incomplete."
June 4 As expected, and with the support of IRV advocates, the Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors slashes the Public Education Plan from $2.9 million to $750,000.
June 5 Secretary of State Kevin Shelley sends a sternly-worded letter to the Department of Elections, saying "obviously this process would be much further along had you not waited over one year to submit your application for certification. Your delay is particularly baffling given the fact that my office began advising you of the need to certify your new system just days after the March 2002 election, and has continued to remind you of this requirement over the past year."
June 10 John Arntz demonstrates the "Arntz method" for Secretary of State.
June 17 Board of Supervisors approves $1.6 million for ES&S contract to upgrade voting equipment, and $750,000 for Public Education Plan.
June 18 Arntz tells Elections Commission they are preparing December runoff as backup plan in case nothing gets certified by the Secretary of State.
June 19 Short response by John Arntz to Secretary of State's June 5 letter. Arntz declines opportunity to respond to direct queries made by Secretary of State Shelley regarding "constitutional, statutory, and procedural defects in the manual count IRV system proposed in your application."
June 30 CONTRACT BETWEEN ES&S AND CITY FINALLY IS SIGNED -- nearly six months after the contract was supposed to have been signed on January 1, 2003.
July 14 City attorney Dennis Herrera issues a public opinion about IRV which partly contradicts the confidential memo from his office dated February 19 (see above).
July 28 The "Arntz method" for a manual IRV tally is denied certification by the Secretary of State's Voting Systems Panel. Mr. Arntz has difficulty answering questions from the panel about his own method, including ones as simple as "how do you resolve ties?"
August 5 Director John Arntz, without authorization from the Elections Commission, announces to the Finance Committee and then San Francisco media that IRV is dead for this year.
August 6 The Elections Commission declines to stop its director from killing IRV, or from planning a December runoff, despite a December runoff being a violation of the charter as well as state law.
August 11 A lawsuit is filed against the Department of Elections, Elections Commission, and Director John Arntz for failing to implement the law and comply with the will of the voters to use instant runoff voting.

Summary of bad decisions and indecisions
The Department took no concrete steps to determine definitively a method of implementation from the passage of Prop A on March 5, 2002 until October 7, 2002. But even then, the first decision about implementation included several mistakes.

First, Director Arntz decided to rule out the use of touch screens, even though touch screens are easiest for the voter and make implementation of instant runoff voting a simpler task. Instead, he decided to upgrade the Optech Eagles. He also ruled out the use of central scanning on the Optech IV-C (which would have been the least expensive solution, and applicable even after the city moves to touch screens, since the IV-C is used to count absentee and provisional ballots). Arntz rejected the "central scan" solution because he did not want to have to transport ballots on Election Night from the precincts to a central counting location.

Yet when Director Arntz began preparing a backup solution in February - his "partial hand count" - this approach involved not only moving ballots on Election Night but handling them repeatedly. Even in drafting a backup plan, Director Arntz failed to consider more workable solutions than his "Arntz method." More workable solutions would have included a reconsideration of the "central scan," which is not only logistically easier than a partial hand count, but costs must less money and is much much faster. He also failed to consider a pure hand count on paper ballots, as has been used for decades in places like Cambridge, MA, Australia and Britain, which also is much less expensive and faster. One vendor has estimated that the cost and time for doing a hand count of paper ballots would be two days to count all of San Francisco's ballots for the November election, for a cost of approximately $225,000, which is only a tenth of the cost of the "Arntz method" and a fraction of the cost of a second citywide election in December.

Lack of public involvement and assistance from experts

Director John Arntz also consistently excluded the public from any meaningful discussion about implementation of instant runoff voting. This should have included input about ballot design, voter education, and the method of implementation of IRV.

Director Arntz and the Elections Commission also failed to solicit input from recognized experts who could assist them with implementation, including experts from the Center for Voting and Democracy, experts in Cambridge, MA, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere.

Neither Director John Arntz nor the Elections Commission has significant election administration experience. Unfortunately, the implementation of instant runoff voting in San Francisco suffered as a result. Director Arntz made a series of poor decisions throughout the 17 months since instant runoff voting was passed on March 5, 2002, and the Elections Commission sat by ineffectually while their director fumbled the ball. The implementation of IRV was plagued not only by poor decision-making, but also by a lack of responsiveness to the community, a lack of leadership, and a lack of can-do attitude. Consequently, San Francisco has been treated to 17 months of fumbling and bumbling by the governmental agencies charged with fulfilling the will of the voters and implementing the law.

Some have claimed that, compared to his predecessor, Director Arntz has done a satisfactory job for the past couple elections and helped turn the Department around. There may be some truth to this assessment, which is a big feat considering the state of the Department when he took the reins. Nevertheless, since March 5, 2002 and particularly since the end of April when he took over the Department of Elections from his predecessor, a significant part of Director Arntz's job entailed developing and implementing a workable voting system to be used for instant runoff voting. On this score he has performed extremely poorly, resulting in litigation against the City of San Francisco.

FairVote wanted DRE touchscreens - all the better to get IRV faster. Election Director Arntz refused Fair Vote's offer for them to advise him - they went as far as suing them for not following the law because San Francisco was having trouble finding a voting system that could accommodate IRV.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Instant runoff forces Pierce County Washington to use uncertified voting systems

Pierce County Washington adopted "instant runoff voting" in November 2006. Pierce County officials were backed into a corner in May 2008 and ended up getting permission to use uncertified IRV software, violating their own state's laws. Officials said that even counting just 14 IRV ballots was too hard, and they needed the state to approve the uncertified software. Their machines could not tabulate instant runoff so they were waiting for the vendor to develop software. Time was running out because Pierce was supposed to utilize Instant runoff for their upcoming elections. The vendor delivered the software but it hadn't been federally tested or approved at the time.

Pierce County tested the new Sequoia software, found some problems, and asked the Secretary of State to certify parts of the system on an emergency basis since it would be too hard to count manually.

Pierce County officials said: they tried hand-counting just 14 RCV ballots with seven ranked contests and found that it was “horrendous.” Using software to tally this sort of balloting was absolutely essential. She found that it simply couldn’t be done any other way.

Ellen Theisen and John Gideon of Voters Unite have a writeup on the May 13 testing results and for the IRV software being considered for Pierce County voting machines. found serious problems with them.

In testing, the system reported that there were "zero votes" to start(in one set of its records), but actually had 56 votes already in its other set of vote records.

Voting System Certification Hearing in Washington State May 23, 2008 by Ellen Theisen

...John and I were concerned about the Sequoia system. Pierce County, WA voters had voted to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a system where voters may specify their preferences in particular races on the ballot as "first choice", "second choice", or "third choice". However, no state-certified system had the software needed to tabulate RCV ballots. So Sequoia developed their software specifically for Pierce County. They had applied for “emergency” provisional certification from the state, which would allow them to bypass state requirements for independent testing to the federal standards.

John and I planned to go to the testing on May 14, but at the last minute the testing for that day was called off so officials could investigate a problem that had shown up the previous day. the Sequoia system had tallied votes wrong.

Later in the day, Patty Murphy emailed us from the SoS office to let us know what happened:

Monday night, a test run was done on the 5 insights [Sequoia Insight Optical Scanners]. Once complete, one tester zeroed out each machine and memory pack. (You can reset, or zero out, the memory pack at the Insight machine.) Following this tester was a 2nd worker who powered off all the Insights. On one of the machines, they powered it off before the machine was finished zeroing out the memory pack. Each memory pack has all the results tabulated by precinct first on the pack, followed by cast vote records that have results by ballot. It zeroed out the tabulated section, but it didn't erase all the cast vote records.

On Tuesday, when we started the machines, we ran zero reports. They were all zero because they show all the tabulated results by precinct (the portion that was zeroed out). However, when we moved the memory packs to the reporting software, it added up all the cast vote records, and reported those results.

In other words, the Sequoia system checked one set of electronic ballot records and reported an “empty ballot box,” but then used a different set of ballot records to tabulate the votes. This is exactly like checking one ballot box to ensure that it’s empty before opening the polls, and then using a different, unchecked ballot box for the voted ballots to be tallied at the end of the day. But the unchecked box hadn’t been empty.

John and I both wrote up testimony, which we immediately sent to Patty Murphy. As you can imagine, we objected to having a system certified when, in testing, it reported that there were "zero votes" to start, but actually had 56 votes already in its secret, unobservable "ballot box"! Patty Murphy passed our testimony along to the Review Board so they would have time to read our statements before the hearing.

Here's John's. Here's mine.

Patty thoroughly described the problem that had occurred, the discrepancy in the results, and the possible workarounds proposed by Sequoia —which involved “patching” the software in both the scanner that falsely reported a blank ballot box and in the WinEDS software that counted ballots from the “stuffed” ballot box.

Then she added a new thought we hadn’t heard before — the possibility of using the Edge touch-screen machine, the central count optical scanner, and the WinEDS tabulating software without using the flawed Insight scanner. I thought that sounded like a possible solution.

Regarding the complex algorithm used to tally RCV ballots, Patty pointed out that software, of some type, would be needed to tally such ballots correctly. She explained how they tried hand-counting just 14 RCV ballots with seven ranked contests and found that it was “horrendous.” Using software to tally this sort of balloting was absolutely essential. She found that it simply couldn’t be done any other way.

...Pat McCarthy, Pierce County Auditor, spoke first. She said that she was so concerned about the flaw on the Insight scanner, she had decided not to use it at all, contrary to her original intention. ...Pat McCarthy had listened to the evidence and had
decided to reject the equipment, regardless of what the Board recommended or whether the SoS certified it.

...Edwin Smith from Sequoia was there to represent their system that had failed during testing. He attempted to claim that the miscount wasn’t really an accuracy issue, because it had been caused by an operator error that could be handled through proper procedures. But the Review Board heard John’s statements about the accuracy requirements in federal and state law and acted on them responsibly -- as you’ll read in a moment.

I pointed out that what Smith called “operator error” was really good testing, and I saw heads nod among the Review Board.

...To get us back on track, John emphasized again that using a system that miscounted votes was a violation of federal law that could not be ignored.

Debbie Cook ...and made a motion to recommend approval for the system, with a stipulation prohibiting the use of the Insight scanner. Joachin Avila suggested adding another amendment — the approval would depend on a legal decision that the system would not violate the accuracy requirement of federal law as long as the Insight wasn’t used.

The Review Board unanimously passed the motion as amended.

The Secretary of State of Washington granted "emergency" permission in May 2008 for Pierce County to use the uncertified software on Seqouia machines, even though flaws were found in the WinEDS (central tabulating system). The "Insight" optical scanners for precinct voting were not approved, but the touchscreens and central count scanners were - on an emergency basis. All optical scan ballots will be hauled off to the county office to be tabulated.
(June 13 2008 Secretary of State press release)

This report has been forwarded to the San Francisco Elections Department, since they plan to use the Sequoia "Insight" precinct scanner once federal certification is granted. iF the machines are not certified by November, then San Francisco will not use them to tabulate the IRV rankings. That will be done by hand.