Thursday, December 11, 2008

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.