Monday, April 27, 2009

Instant Runoff Voting, Single Transferrable Vote, Ireland and Failed Political System

Do the Instant Runoff Voting and Single Transferrable Vote methods stagnate politics? Ireland is in the news for ditching 51 M (euros) word of computerized voting machines meant to make counting STV easier. Lobbyists in British Columbial are promoting STV there. Will IRV/STV reduce the voters' impact, encourage name recognition and big money politics? Do these methods incentivize computerized voting?

Take a look then at Ireland, where STV has been used since 1937. Or Scotland, where STV was adopted in May 2007 and they ditched hand counted paper ballots for computers. Or San Francisco CA and Pierce County Washington where standards for voting machine software were dropped just to allow computerized counting of instant runoff voting, STV's single contest cousin. And lobbyists for instant runoff voting in North Carolina have recently endorsed the central counting of votes, which goes against current laws and makes ballot box stuffing easier. Lets take a look at what STV or IRV really does:

Single Party Rule
In Ireland: The Archetypal Single Transferable Vote System
Michael Gallagher points out that Ireland has used STV and single party rule for decades:

"Ever since independence in 1922, the Republic of Ireland has used proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). ... For many years, single-party government by the largest party, Fianna Fail, was the norm, interrupted only occasionally by coalitions formed by the other two main parties."

Political Inertia

Columnist Elaine Byrne says that Single Transferrable Vote is a system that political infighting and prevents voters from making any serious choices:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009PR system promotes non-decision making and inertia

The voting system inhibits meaningful ideological debate and fortifies the catch-all character of Irish politics, writes ELAINE BYRNE

...PR-STV emphasises clientelistic relationships cemented on constituency casework and a political culture which promotes localism and faction fighting between candidates from the same party.

This in turn inhibits meaningful national ideological debate and fortifies the catch-all character of Irish politics.

The dominance of localism has reinforced the delegation of political decisions to
extra-parliamentary State institutions such as the courts, State agencies, social partnership, tribunals, the European Union and the increased use of referendums. Complex and controversial decisions are sidestepped, thus avoiding unnecessary confrontation.

...“You gotta stand for something or you’ll fall for everything,” that great country and western philosopher Charlie Pride once said. If republicanism is now defined as putting the country first, then our electoral system stands in conflict to that ideal.

The PR-STV system facilitates a perverse electoral logic which abdicates
responsibility for robust decision making.

There are no consequences to elections because by their nature they present indecisive choice. The opportunity to vote for everybody, through the ranking of your preferences, means that in reality, you vote for no one.

Our politics and our electoral system are all things to all men. Ireland is confused and paralysed by entrenched contradiction but happy to distract ourselves by the merry-go-round music of dying generations.
Reduced impact of voters

Opponents of the measure to switch British Columbia to Single Transferrable Vote say that voters stand to lose local representation. Reduced seats will make it harder to get elected without big money backers, increasing corporate controll over govt.
From the "NO STV" website:

Adoption of BC-STV would merge the 85 single-MLA constituencies that will be used in the 2009 election into 20 multiple-MLA electoral areas with populations of 200,000 to over 300,000. With STV's electoral areas it is possible to elect all the candidates for an area from one community, leaving others with no effective representation.

Insecure, complex computerized voting

Ireland has ditched their new, unused electronic voting machines after it was determined the machines are insecure. The machines cost Ireland 51 million Euros, which does not include the cost of approximately 696,000 Euros per year to keep them in climate controlled storage. On top of that Ireland will have to spend money to dispose of the machines.

Why did Ireland buy computerized voting machines in the first place? Because of the complexity of counting STV. STV, like Instant Runoff Voting or any ranked choice voting - is not additive, you can't just tally up vote totals. A columnist at Cornell Info 2040 - Networks explains:
Ireland’s Voting System Sunday, April 26th, 2009

...Their choice of sophisticated voting methods makes it much more difficult for a paper election to proceed, since each ballot contains information for every candidate and not just a single vote. Because of the complexity of the voting methods, it is also not practical for counters to tally by hand - when a voter’s first preference is eliminated, as the lowest vote-total candidates are, for example, their vote is redistributed to their second choice. Since this has to be done for every voter who had the eliminated candidate as their first choice, this leads to a lot of redistribution...

Where else has Instant Runoff Voting or Single Transferrable Voting created a push towards computerized voting or less secure methods?

Scotland: A non profit pushing STV convinced Scotland officials to ditch hand counted paper ballots in favor of computers in May 2007, and the result was 100,000 spoiled ballots and an election described as a "National humiliation".

Pierce County Washington US:

June 27, 2008 Instant runoff forces Pierce County Washington to use uncertified voting systems
September 14. 2008 Pierce County Instant Runoff Voting System has new bug, says WA 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.

San Francisco, California US:

April 9. 2009 Hypocrisy: California bends law for instant runoff voting machines again!
The state of California has made allowances for Instant Runoff Voting Software three times. First the state allowed San Francisco to knowingly purchase uncertified software for the sake of instant runoff voting, and then the state went on to grant 2 exemptions to use that uncertified software. And the vendor, Sequoia still hasn't gotten its crappy software certified yet.

Even the national lobbyists for IRV/STV admit clash with voting systems

Fair Vote complains of clash of complex IRV/STV ballots with existing voting

April 24, 2008. Fair Vote Director, Rob Richie's statement at the April 24 2008 Federal Election Assistance Commission Roundtable Discussion: Richie advised that something needs to be done to make voting systems compatible with IRV. He said: "for instant runoff voting, or preferential voting methods, it often bangs up against the fact that voting equipment isn't flexible enough to handle these voting methods....

June 22, 2007. Under the heading of "Building Proportional Voting Infrastructure", Fair Vote's website states: "One major obstacle currently in the way of proportional voting systems in many localities is the difficulty of adapting existing voting machines to new types of ballot. Many voting machines are unable to cope with more sophisticated ballot designs, and in particular with the ranked ballots which systems such as choice voting and IRV require. Even when machines are theoretically compatible with ranked ballots, machine manufacturers will often charge huge amounts of money for upgrades to localities looking to put ranked systems into place."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Durham Community Leader says NO to Instant Runoff, warns of legal action

Instant Runoff Voting was given a huge kiss off in Durham North Carolina at a Thursday City Council Meeting. IRV wasn't even on the agenda, plurality elections was. But Instant runoff advocates had been trying to raise interest in Durham, but faced strong opposition.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Durham Community leaders oppose Instant Runoff Voting at City Council Meeting
Instant runoff voting was not on the agenda at the Durham City Council meeting last night, but opposing it was on the minds of local community leaders. Further, one very influential leader threatened legal action....

You can see
video of the meeting at the Durham County City Govt website. There's a drop down list where you can jump right to the part of the agenda discussing Durham's elections:

From transcripts of the meeting:

44. Proposed City Charter Amendment to Change the Process of Conducting Durham Municipal Elections

Dr. Lavonia Allison - President of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People (around 2:49)"I stand opposed to this. Democracy is an open process, you should not come up with any process which we limit participatory democracy. This whole idea is that voting is a landmark of the people… even if its expensive. We spend a whole a lot of money on…..Just vote it down (non partisan plurality elections).I’m not going to be for instant runoff voting either, because I’ve got a whole lot of things to say about that too.."

Stella Adams - Vice Chair of NC Democratic Party and Housing Chair and Economic Empowerment Coordinator at NC NAACP (around 3:02)"I am here to speak, to inform and then to speak. I was an elected official in Durham 20 years ago and I …the Soil and Water races are local races that are plurality races…so and my daughter Danielle was elected in November in a plurality race… So it is not a new form of election in Durham County.. That’s just a fact.. I m not supporting or opposing.

But I am here, to absolutely put it on the record that I am absolutely to the core opposed to instant runoff voting. And I believe that the issue of Instant runoff voting has clouded the discussions. And I want to make it very clear that that will cost the city money, not save the city money. Because I promise you that I will be protecting my right to vote, with legal action should you choose to do that. .

People in my family have died for the right to the vote I mean buried in their graves for the right to vote… My aunt was denied the vote because she could not explain Article 3 of the constitution. Through a poll, a literacy test.

We have a family ritual that which we will carry out on May 6 of this year, when my son turns 18 and we walk our children to register to vote. And we tell them that history.Instant runoff voting disenfranchises black people, And I will fight to protect that.

NO to instant runoff voting!"

Instant Runoff Voting driven by Political Narcism in Cary, North Carolina?

After the IRV meltdown in Cary N. C. in 2007, why DOES Councilman Erv Portman keep trying to revive Instant Runoff Voting? The Town council dealt IRV a death blow on March 15, 2009 when they voted 6-1 to adopt non partisan plurality elections. They've had enough with the unintended consequences of this well meaning reform.

Chris Telesca, a verified voting activist in Wake County has an opinion, I think its tongue in cheek, but with Chris, its hard to tell sometimes:

"I must confess that I secretly feel that Erv's actions are not that he really believes in IRV as an election method. I feel it's a form political narcissism - IRV is pronounced the same way that his first name (Erv) is pronounced. So for Erv, it's not like looking into a mirror and seeing his own reflection (which got Narcissus into trouble) but like listening to your own name being called over and over and OVER again (like Cary IRV supporters kept pronouncing IRV as one word, not spelling it out)."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Instant Runoff Voting violates citizens' rights


Instant Runoff Voting violates citizens' rights
3/24/2009 7:10:01 AM
Comments (0)
By Andy Cilek

In response to former Post-Bulletin Publisher Bill Boyne's column titled "the U.S. is ready for election reform," I'd like to offer some counter arguments to his misguided idea that we should adopt a new voting system in which voters rank their candidates, rather than vote for one.
There is a lot of hype these days about a new preferential voting system called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). IRV is being touted by well-funded, highly organize groups, including FairVote, as a new system that makes elections fairer and makes the outcome more "democratic."
The claim is that IRV gives voters more choices, creates majority winners and is easier and less costly to operate. Even if these logistical arguments were valid, which they are not, they are merely side issues that miss the point.

It's not about how IRV might affect the candidates, the parties or the outcomes of elections; it's about what preferential voting does to the voter and to the vote itself. The fatal flaw of IRV is that it violates the rights of voters. There are many reasons for this, but it boils down to two:
The first is that IRV is "nonmonotonic." Very simply, this means a voter's ranking order can have an effect other than what the voter intended. This is because of the mathematical complexities that come into play during the vote-transferring process.
With IRV, a voter can harm his favorite candidate simply by raising him in rank, or ranking him/her as their first choice.

This alone should eliminate IRV as a viable option. Voters shouldn't need a calculator to determine if they are helping or hurting the cause of their favorite candidate.
The second problem is that IRV forces voters to either dilute the strength of their ballot by not ranking all the candidates, or rank candidates whom they do not prefer at all. Thus, the voter must either violate his own equal protection rights, because other ballots would carry more weight, or violate his own rights of association, by "voting" for a candidate he opposes.
Any system that forces voters to disenfranchise themselves this way ought to be rejected out of hand.

IRV is not a new system. It will not create true majority winners, but merely the illusion of a majority, and is likely to cause more logistical problems and confusion than traditional plurality voting. This is why Georgetown University's student association has recently abandoned IRV for its elections.

In 1915 a different, but similar, form of IRV was implemented in Duluth, and was challenged in court. The Minnesota Supreme Court, in Brown v. Smallwood, ruled it unconstitutional saying, "Preferential voting directly diminishes the right of a voter to cast an effective vote for the candidate of his choice."

The court further stated: "The quotations made from the different cases are NOT chance expressions. They are indicative of the idea, which permeates all legal thought, that when a voter votes for the candidate of his choice, his vote must be counted one, and it cannot be defeated or its effect lessened, except by the vote of another elector voting for one."
IRV is a violation of this well-established view of the rights of voters in a representative democracy like ours. Our small, grassroots group, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, is pursuing legal action to stop the implementation of IRV in Minnesota.
Last month, the Hennepin County District Court issued an initial ruling concerning the constitutionality of IRV that was full of factual misconceptions and faulty legal arguments. The Hennepin County District Court failed to grasp the concept embodied in State Supreme Court precedent.

While Minneapolis voters were presented with an alternative voting system through a referendum, they did not bargain for unconstitutional ordinances passed after the fact. Despite the fact that IRV is a system of voting which fails to count all ballots equally, and that places voters in the precarious position of not knowing whether or not their first-choice vote will help or hurt their own favorite candidate, the district somehow found that not to be in conflict with basic notions of constitutional principles.

It is especially disconcerting when a lower court disregards State Supreme Court constitutional precedent and principles found in Brown v. Smallwood. Luckily, there is a process for review.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance and the city of Minneapolis have jointly requested an accelerated review by the State Supreme Court. All parties expect the high court to hear the case within two months to finally resolve this issue. Quite frankly, we like our chances.
We encourage any interested citizen to visit our Web site:, where we go into much detail on this vital issue.

Andy Cilek is executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance.

Instant Runoff is a national issue, case presented under US Constitution

Instant runoff is a national issue
April 1, 2009

In Steve Brandt's recent article, "Instant Runoff ruling tests Minneapolis' resolve," Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said "It's highly unlikely that the U. S. Supreme Court would want to weigh in with a state issue."

While Supreme Court review is discretionary, she's wrong about what is at stake -- voter rights embodied in the state and federal constitutions. And it is not just a local issue. The rights affected by instant runoff voting (IRV) and being fought over have national significance.

It appears that Ms. Glidden either failed to read the court briefs and recognize that the legal claims made fall under both the Minnesota and United States Constitutions or she was just dodging the question of whether the city would appeal if it loses at the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Simply stated, IRV forces voters to either dilute the strength of their ballot by not ranking all the candidates, or to rank candidates they do not prefer at all. Thus, the voter must either violate his own equal protection rights (14th Amendment), because other ballots would carry more weight, or violate his own rights of "political" association (First Amendment), by having to "vote" for a candidate he or she opposes.

IRV also violates the right to association in that a voter can unknowingly cause harm to his favorite candidate simply by raising him in rank, or ranking him as a first choice. No voter should ever be put in a position of being able to cause his or her favored candidate to lose simply by voting for that candidate.

By calling these objectionable characteristics of preferential voting "an acceptable constitutional risk," the lower court also admitted that IRV does harm a voter's "right to cast an effective vote for the candidate of his choice."

These particular constitutional issues, as presented by the Minnesota Voters Alliance, have never been adjudicated anywhere in the United States since Brown v. Smallwood. And no court, until the recent Hennepin County District Court decision, has admitted that IRV harms the effectiveness of a voter's vote.

No one knows if the U.S. Supreme Court would take an IRV case, but because of the unique issues and arguments presented under the United States Constitution and made against Minneapolis, this case could lead the way to protect the rights of all voters.