Monday, September 28, 2009

Which is better for minorities - Instant Runoff Voting or Traditional Runoff Elections?

Some instant runoff voting advocates claim that minority candidates are harmed by traditional runoff elections. Part of the stems from due to tremendous barriers to voting that existed several years ago. What may have been true 20 or 30 years ago has changed: voting rights and voting accessibility have both improved exponentially. In North Carolina, in fact, minority leaders have been outspoken in their opposition to IRV and spoken in favor of traditional runoff elections. There have been several traditional runoff elections that propelled minority candidates into office.

A tale of three different election contests with traditonal runoff elections:

Rocky Mount, NC, City Council Race Ward B. Lois Watkins v Tom Looney, Nov 2007.

The city of Rocky Mt NC held a runoff election for the Ward B City Council race because the Oct 9 election didn't produce a clear winner. The traditional runoff election, held Tuesday, Nov. 6 2007 ended up having a higher turnout than the October election.

Incumbent Lois Watkins trailed Tom Looney in the October election, but came back to nearly double her vote count in the runoff, easily defeating Looney.

The turnout for the Ward B Contest in October was 1,230 voters, and in increased to 1,678 votes in the November runoff. Many of the 1,678 votes were cast during no-excuse, one-stop voting.

Election Facts:

Lois Watkins - African American Winner, beat Tom Looney by 320 votes in the runoff election.
raised $13,000 for her campaign,
votes received on Oct 9 - 565
votes received on Nov 6 - 999
difference increase - 434

Tom Looney, Caucasian
raised $77,000,
votes received on Oct 9 - 577
votes received on Nov 6 - 679
difference increase - 102

Election summary - ward 4
Total Oct 9 turnout - 1,230 votes
Total Nov 6 runoff - 1,678 votes
Difference increase - 448 votes

Grassroots activism is what elected Lois Watkins, not money, not anything else, just strong interest by the electorate.

Durham North Carolina Mayoral Contest, Nov 2005. William Bill Bell v Jonathan Alston
(Both candidates are African American).

Turnout was higher in the November election and while both candidates increased their vote tally, Mayor Bell was re-elected with 85% of the vote.

"Meeker Re-Elected Raleigh Mayor; Road, Housing Bonds Pass" Oct 12, 2005 ...Instead, incumbent William V. Bell will face Jonathan Alston in the general election on Nov. 11 and go for his third term in office.

The current elected City Council of Rocky Mount consists of 4 African Americans, 3 Caucasians and the Mayor who is Caucasian.


OCTOBER 11, 2005


WILLIAM V. "BILL" BELL . . . . . . 11,333 88.00
VINCENT BROWN . . . . . . . . . WITHDREW
JACQUELINE D. WAGSTAFF . . . . . . 567 4.40
JONATHAN ALSTON . . . . . . . . . . 787 6.11

NOVEMBER 8, 2005

DURHAM CITY MAYOR JONATHAN ALSTON . . . . . . . . 3,007 14.06
WILLIAM V. BILL BELL. . . . . . . 18,171 84.98
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205 .96

Rocky Mount, NC City Council Ward 1, Andre Knight vs Kelvin Barnhill in 2003

Both candidates are African American.

Municipal races stir rumors August 20, 2006... Six candidates filed to run for Ward 1 in 2003, and Knight said he expects several people will run again in 2007. Knight said he will run for re-election in the ward. And Kelvin Barnhill, who lost to Knight in a runoff in 2003, said he may enter next year's race.

Demographics of Rocky Mount, North Carolina: As of the census of 2000: The racial makeup of the city was 40.92% White, 56.02% African American, 0.35% Native American, 0.70% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.91% from other races, and 1.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.85% of the population.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Instant Runoff Voting makes every vote count, RIGHT? Video with surprise ending

The narrator leads you through the video with a bit of suspense, and voila - I won't spoil it for you, but see what happens when a few hundred Green Party voters show up at the last minute to vote.

Please see the video, rate it up on youtube and pass it on.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pierce Co will reconsider Instant Runoff Voting in November

[Washington] In May of this year, the Pierce County Auditor found that IRV was costing too much and the county could save $600,000 if they scrapped instant runoff voting asap. Since 56,751 of 90,738 Pierce County Voters polled said they did not like IRV, it made sense to put the issue back to the voters in November.

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Pierce County voters will decide fate of new voting system
Posted by David Wickert
Pierce County voters will decide in November whether to repeal an election system they used for the first time last fall.

By a vote of 6-1, the County Council approved an amendment to the county charter this afternoon that would repeal ranked choice voting. Now the fate of the election system goes to voters for the third time in three years.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Long Beach, CA to study instant runoff voting on Oct 6, significant opposition exists

The City of Long Beach California will hold a study session on Instant Runoff Voting on October 6. Yesterday the City Council narrowly agreed on the measure. There is significant opposition to changing Long Beach's city charter to require IRV. Advocates for IRV are lobbying the City Council members, saying that Instant runoff voting will save money and increase participation.

If you have a report, op/ed, news article or letter to the editor explaining the real pitfalls of IRV, you might send it to the Long Beach City Council. You might also recommend that the city do a fiscal analysis and study implementation in other towns/cities in the US. The email addresses are lower down the page. Here is the report on the meeting:
Instant Runoff Voting Headed For Oct. 6 Study Session...But Only After Council
Majority Opposition Nearly Stops It Outright

(Sept. 23, 2009) -- Significant Council opposition surfaced on a proposal to implement "instant runoff voting" in Long Beach (in which voters vote for their first and second choices, effectively deciding an election without a runoff). The proposal, agendized by Councilmembers S. Lowenthal, DeLong and Garcia and Lerch, is now scheduled for an Oct. 6 Study Session, originally directed in October 08 but never held. Scheduling the Oct. 6 study session scheduling came only after Council opposition indicated the measure may lack a majority to advance it to the Council's Charter Amendment Committee; the measure requires citywide voter approval to implement.

A number of podium speakers indicated they support instant runoff voting; they were advised to hold their substantive comments until the Oct. 6 study session.

Councilmembers Patrick O'Donnell and Tonia Reyes Uranga indicated they don't support the proposal.

Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal first tried to send issue simultaneously to a Study Session and to the Charter Amendment Committee (to avoid having to hold a future Council vote on referring the item to the Charter Amendment committee)...but the Council ultimately voted only to schedule the item for a Study Session

The item appeared to be over...until Councilwoman Reyes Uranga moved to reconsider its referral to a study session; her reconsideration motion carried 5-4. Councilwoman Reyes Uranga then made a motion to receive and file the Instant Runoff Voting item...which would effectively end discussion on the item.

Councilmembers Lowenthal and Delong argued against this, citing asserted cost savings and greater public participation; Councilman Garcia said he favors receiving more information.

City Attorney Bob Shannon indicated that since the public was told to withhold its comments on the merits until an Oct. 6 study session, he recommended continuing the item to another date at which time the public could be heard on whether to receive and file it.

On questioning by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, City Clerk Larry Herrera said the Council voted in Oct. 08 to approve a consent calendar item to hold a study session on Instant Runoff Voting...and acknowledged it was never scheduled.

Schipske asked whether it's coincidental that the item hadn't come up for over a year; Herrera said such election items typically arise in advance of election cycles and when the issue came up in his recent budget study session, he sensed Council consensus on holding a study session now.

Councilwoman Reyes Uranga said there was no consensus because there was no Council voted action. She asked rhetorically, "What was the whole facade...of going through [a new request for a study session on instant runoff voting] when it was already [set] for a study session [from an October 2008 Council voted action]?"..and then withdrew her motion to reconsider, effectively letting the Oct 2008 Council referral to a Study Session proceed.

"If we're going to have a study session regardless of what the Council [majority now] wants, then let's go ahead and hold it" she said.

The Council then voted to receive and file the evening's agendized item for a Study Session item...and let Council's Oct. 2008 referral to a Study Session proceed on Oct. 6, 2009; a Council majority will subsequently have to vote to refer the item to the Charter Amendment Committee if it is to advance. (Motion carried 7-2, Garcia and Lowenthal dissenting).

Earlier in the meeting, City Clerk Larry Herrera indicated that the final date on which the Council could place items on the April 2010 citywide election ballot is in mid-January 2010.
City Council Member names and email addresses: , , , , , , , , , ,

Long Beach (Sept 2009)
Vice Mayor/1st Dist. Bonnie Lowenthal
2d Dist. Suja Lowenthal
3d Dist Gary DeLong
4th Dist. Patrick O'Donnell
5th Dist. Gerrie Schipske
6th Dist. Dee Andrews
7th Dist. Tonia Reyes-Uranga
8th Dist. Rae Gabelich
9th Dist. Val Lerch
Mayor Bob Foster
City Auditor Laura Doud

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David Richie- "IRV worked let's move on" so Aspen voters just sit down and be quiet!

David Richie has an oped in the Aspen Times about Aspen's May 5 Instant Runoff Voting election. In IRV worked, let's move on Richie wants citizens to quit asking questions about the May 5 IRV election . He might as well have thrown a gauntlet.
Note to Richie: You don't tell Aspen folks to just sit down and be quiet when they have questions about their democracy.

Aspen's May 5 election left many voters doubting the election process because of a lack of transparency, not because of the results. The questions voters seem to be asking is not just whether IRV "worked", but whether the election process was transparent, secure, fair, and accurate. That problems caused by IRV (the complexity, the faulty tallying process and voter confusion) helped draw voters attention to the entire election process.

Another fact is that IRV is but one of several problems with Aspen's May 5 election, and the problems with Aspen's election exist elsewhere. It is just that Aspen voters were paying attention, perhaps because of the new IRV method:

Big changes needed to election system. Sept 22...Marilyn Marks.
...It is not just IRV. The most troublesome issues are not IRV-driven. Dumping IRV is not a panacea. We need fundamental improvements in simple procedures, from appropriate security for physical ballots to acceptable post-election audits, and accurate, timely reporting by the city.

IRV elections require voters to trust in officials instead of a transparent system.
At Voting Matters Blog: "The average voter has to place great trust in the reliability of the counting algorithm in a way far beyond what is necessary in plurality voting. So the counting is opaque and non-transparent — a kind of voting voodoo with election officials in the role of witch doctor producing the magical results."

Elections should be based on a system of checks and balances, and transparent so that the average layperson can observe the process. Instant Runoff Voting does not meet that standard.

Side note: Is David Richie related to Rob Richie of FairVote, the pro IRV organization?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

IRV "might be overkill for Brattleboro," says Town Clerk

Fair Vote tries to spread instant runoff voting to another small town. The Town Clerk Annette Cappy says "It just seems with the expense and the complexity, it might be overkill for Brattleboro,"
Brattleboro should learn from the lessons learned from Aspen,Colorado's May 5 IRV election and Burlington Vermont's pathology ridden IRV Mayoral election.

Public reviews charter changes

BRATTLEBORO -- Talk of instant runoff voting dominated the first public meeting of the Brattleboro Town Charter Revision Commission.

In the initial citizens’ forum held Thursday evening, about a dozen residents joined the charter review commission to discuss the pros and cons of having an instant runoff voting (IRV) system in town.

...Most locations with IRV have larger populations, where Brattleboro only has about 9,000 voters and rarely sees numerous candidates for local government positions, said Cappy.

"It just seems with the expense and the complexity, it might be overkill for Brattleboro," she said.

There has been 40 open Selectboard seats in the last 14 years, and only 38 candidates have run. Sixteen ran only once and never again. Five times candidates ran uncontested.

Instant runoff would almost be more than what is needed in town, said Cappy. "I’m not sure this would benefit the voters of Brattleboro."

...Thursday’s meeting was the first in a series of future public meetings the commission will hold to discuss the aforementioned topics.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

St Paul IRV tasting parties: "you might end up drinking some swill you never voted for"

If you thought that the comparison of instant runoff voting to choosing an ice cream flavor or a candy bar was dumb, how about "tasting parties"? Restaraunts in St. Paul Minnesota are hosting "tasting parties" to help "educate" and promote instant runoff voting. Diners are voters and menu items are to be ranked. This is to "help" St Paul voters who will decide this November whether to adopt IRV or not. But Joe Soucheray, a writer for the Pioneer Press joins in the IRV/tasting parties game and plays it all the way out. This is a sort of - be careful what you wish for scenario:

Joe Soucheray: Instant runoff voting promises instant headaches
By Joe Soucheray Updated: 09/12/2009

As it continues to be a solution for which there is no problem, a couple of restaurants, I was reading the other day, have decided to get into the instant runoff voting business. Diners, or drinkers, at the establishments that cheerfully allowed themselves to be duped into promoting IRV, will rank their favorite meals or beers.

At the Happy Gnome on Selby Avenue, for example, a great beer outpost, customers will be asked to rank their favorite beers. I guess you can sit there and get sloshed while you make checkmarks alongside your favorite import or boutique brew. But if it worked like IRV, you might end up drinking some swill you never voted for.

Same with the restaurants that are participating. The diners at the Coffee News Cafe on Grand Avenue, for example, will rank the omelets the restaurant features. That's great. But, again, if it works like IRV, you might be trying to feed the winner to a dog under the table.

Instant runoff voting is the desire of something called FairVote Minnesota, the title alone implying that voting is somehow not fair. To whom? The candidates? And if so, what obligation does a citizen have to see fairness imparted to somebody who wants to run for office.

As I understand it — and this is going to be a challenge for me because of the ridiculously complicated mathematical equations — IRV requires that voters rank their candidates by preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the ballots that listed that candidate as the first choice are redistributed to their second-choice candidate. We keep playing eenie-meenie-miney-moe until somebody, artificially, gets a majority of votes. Huh?

Wait a minute. I've only begun my research into instant runoff voting and I plan to educate myself as thoroughly as possible, but I smell a large rat. I can deduce that just by the yards where IRV support signs are springing up. We have been sold, or are attempting to be sold, on the idea that voting is a rigorous, burdensome exercise that needs to be made easier or refined or more accommodating to more people. Well, we saw the results of that in the Coleman-Franken race where the debate over which absentee ballots to count threw the race into a court-storm of controversy and protracted recounts.

Beware the secretary of state or always-available activist group that wishes to make your life easier. They usually have something up their sleeves, like the promotion, through obfuscation, of more of their own kind.

Keep in mind we will be asked to vote on this Nov 3. I'll get the ballot question and print it one of these days soon. I have a feeling it will be a doozy. I have a feeling the ballot question alone will cause us to scratch our heads while we read it with our lips moving.

Proponents of the idea offer the incentive that it will eliminate the primary election. Why should the primary election be eliminated? Oh, I suppose because that requires somebody to get out on that extra occasion and vote. I've never missed a primary. That's when you weed out the stiffs and pretenders and two candidates are left standing to fight it out in the general election. Nothing could be simpler.

When it comes to the general election, I only want one vote. I don't want yours and I don't want your neighbor's and you shouldn't want mine, either. I win or lose. I can live with that. That's the way we do it in this country, or did, until we let develop the
everybody-must-get-a-ribbon mentality.

We still have transparency in our election system. We saw it muddled last November, but for the most part, we still have honesty and transparency, a winner and a loser.

Can you imagine a recount of an IRV-determined vote? And, by the way, how are the votes reassigned on the day of the election?

This is a rat that needs to be ferreted out.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at

Spread of IRV slowed when CA senate defeates AB 1121

Close call. The spread of the IRV virus was just slowed down a bit. The California State Senate just defeated a bill that would have made it easier to spread instant runoff voting across the state. The bill was narrowly defeated. Hopefully lawmakers will learn more about the drawbacks of instant runoff voting before the IRV-whack-a-mole game starts up again for next legislative session.
California Senate Defeats IRV Bill by One Vote

September 10th, 2009

On September 10, the California Senate voted 20 in favor, 19 against, on AB 1121. California bills can’t pass unless they receive 21 votes in the 40-member State Senate, so the bill failed. It allows 10 non-charter cities or counties to use Instant Runoff Voting for their own elections.

There are many other ways to have meaningful participation of third parties without the drawbacks and complications of instant runoff voting.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dollars spent on direct lobbying for IRV in Minneapolis MN, Pierce Co WA, Oakland and Davis, CA

*Updated* There's plenty of money spent on lobbying for Instant Runoff Voting, aka IRV aka Ranked Choice Voting or RCV, around the US. From data we've unearthed so far, FairVote has spent approx $65,000 at least on the promotion of IRV just in Pierce County Washington.

So how much was spent on direct lobbying for IRV in the US? Here's some data from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 990 filings found at And a recent news article.

FairVote donated $22,000 to support a political campaign in Pierce Co WA:

Pierce charter amendment supporters, opponents squabble over campaign cash
Posted By David Wickert on October 15, 2009. State Public Disclosure Commission records show Citizens Against Rigging the System, which opposes the charter amendments, has accepted $22,000 from Fair Vote, a Maryland nonprofit. According to its web site, the group advocates for election law changes it believes will increase voter participation and give voters “more meaningful ballot choices.”

Fair Vote has contributed more than 80 percent of the money raised by Citizens Against Rigging the System.

Hays says the contributions undermine the principal that “local issues should be decided by local people.” He contends Fair Vote has not disclosed its contributors, so voters don’t know who’s ultimately behind the contributions. And he suggests the contributions are illegal because Fair Vote is a nonprofit and can’t support a political campaign.

According to FairVote's 2007 990 form, page 17 dollar support to Sarasota FL, Callam Co WA, Aspen, Co, and Pierce Co WA:

FairVote engaged in direct lobbying in several instances:

We supported with minimal expenses a ballot measure on instant runoff voting in Springfield (IL.) in the spring of 2007 and spent $18,400 in direct support of ballot measures for instant runoff voting in Sarasota (FL) and Clallam County (WA)in November 2007 and support through staff time, primarily that of our instant runoff voting program director and a full-time field organizer in Sarasota. We spent much more limited amount of staff time to support additional ballot measures on instant runoff voting in Aspen (CO) and Pierce COunty (WA) - the Aspen money primarily in the form of the executive director's advocacy of the city council in its deliberations to place the measure on the ballot.

FairVote spent $6,250 to fund lobbying activity for consultants in Vermont on instant runoff voting legislation. A limited amount of the time of FairVote's executive director was also devoted to this project.

According to FairVote's 2006 990 form, page 34:

FairVote engaged in direct lobbying in several instance:

We allocated a total of $43,419 to campaigns and organizations that supported passage of Charter Amendment Three for instant runoff voting in Pierce County, Washington. We had additional in-kind contributions of staff time and list purchases of more than $10,000 to that campaign.

We allocated $15,000 to a campaign to adopt ranked voting methods (instant runoff voting for some offices and choice voting for others) in Minneapolis.

We provided gifts of $5,500 to the campaign for choice voting in Davis, California and some staff time to this campaign.

We allocated just under $5,000 to a campaign for instant runoff voting in Oakland, California. Earlier in the year, a consultant was paid for work in California that included some efforts to lobby the Oakland city council to place instant runoff voting on the ballot.

We worked with consultants in Vermont on instant runoff voting, with half of the time involved with lobbying the legislature on legislation to establish instant runoff voting for congressional offices.

And FairVote's 2005 990

FairVote engaged in a limited amount of direct lobbying - a total of less than $6,000 -- in several circumstances detailed as follows:

More than half of the year's direct lobbying related to enacting instant runoff voting in Burlington, Vermont. First, instant runoff voting was on the ballot as a charter amendment in the city in March 2005. We donated $2,000 to the Voters' Choice Coalition that worked to pass the amendment and paid $300 to part-time consultant Terry Bouricius to assist the campaign. The legislature then needed to approve the city's charter change. We used $500 to pay two consultants (Terry Bouricius and Jesse Rosado) to lobby successfully for the bill's passage.

Instant runoff voting also was placed on the November 2005 ballot by the city council of Takoma Park, where our organization is based. Our executive director spent time making the case for instant runoff voting and for a proposal to count ballots with paper ballots to the city council and was joined by staff members David Moon and Ryan O'Donnell and program associate Adam Johnson in putting a limited amount of time into assisting the local campaign committee.. FairVote also donated $200 directly to the local campaign committee.

FairVote supported several congressional bills on its website, and put a limited time into lobbying on behalf of proposed constitutional amendments HJR 28 and H$ 36. ...California consultant Chris Jerdonek spent a limited time lobbying the Alameda County Council to allow the City of Berkely to implement instant runoff voting.

What happens when money is spent equally on providing pros and cons of this type of voting method?

In British Columbia, the government funded both the pro and anti STV groups, and - and the majority of voters said no to STV.

See June 9, 2009 Single Transferrable Vote Defeated Fair and Square in BC - Pro and Con Groups Funded by Provincial Govt Equally ...The provincial government gave $500,000 to two groups, British Columbians for BC-STV (aka Fair Voting B.C.) and No STV, which ran the official “yes” and “no” campaigns for this year’s referendum.