More complicated, confusing and expensive
By Chuck Repke, Angie Kline, Kathy Lantry and Dave Thune
Pioneer Press 10/28/2009
St. Paul voters should vote 'NO' on IRV if they care about having transparent, timely, and cost-effective city elections.
IRV doesn't deliver on what it promises — and will result in confused voters, lengthy waits for election results, and added expense for St. Paul taxpayers. IRV may seem like a new idea, but it has been tried in other places, and we can learn from their experiences.
Problems from complicating the ballot have been documented in IRV elections. In Cary, N.C., 22 percent of the voters polled admitted to not understanding IRV. In Pierce County, Washington, 63 percent of 91,000 voters indicated that they did not like using IRV. Several studies by San Francisco State University on San Francisco's Ranked Choice Voting indicate that older voters, those with English as a second language, and those with less income and education were less likely to understand IRV.
Statistically, the voters who don't fill in second choices are disproportionately senior, low income and from communities of color. IRV advocates say it is a voter's "choice" to not make a second selection when using IRV. We take issue with the complexity of a voting process when the voters "choosing" not to take full advantage and less likely to understand the system are voters who come disproportionately from these communities.
If the perceived benefit of IRV is to have a winner with the majority of votes, our current election system already does that. In IRV, votes are counted in rounds. The candidate with the smallest number of votes each round is dropped and his/her voters' second choices are redistributed to other candidates. In practice, about 15 percent of voters make no second choice, so there are fewer ballots counted each round. In 10 of 11 IRV contests in San Francisco, the winner did not receive the votes of a majority of those who voted that day, only a majority of the votes still being counted.
IRV will cost St. Paul taxpayers more. Because, by the terms of what we're voting on next week, IRV can be used only in municipal elections for mayor and city council, it will still be necessary to conduct school board primaries during the same year that we have mayor or city council races. Voter turnout for school board primaries will be abysmal. The city will need to prepare two different ballots in November for two separate elections.
St. Paul will also lose the economies of scale that are possible by using the same equipment and voting method used throughout Ramsey County. To date, there is no certified voting equipment to handle the tabulations required in IRV. This means for any election where there is not a winner with 51 percent of the vote on a first run-through, hand counting will be required — at an approximate cost of $10,000 per day in a typical mayoral election. Minneapolis predicts it will take extra staff, hand-counting ballots, six days a week, to be able to announce their results by Dec. 22nd.
IRV makes it impossible to have an informed electorate without candidates spending big money to convey their messages. This year's mayoral races are excellent examples. In St. Paul, because we had a primary, there are just two mayoral candidates with access to free media, and both have been highlighted in articles and editorials. In Minneapolis, where they are using IRV, there have been no mayoral debates and little access to the press for the 10 new candidates. With limited press coverage and no excitement, this year may set a record for low turnout in Minneapolis. San Francisco voters had a similar experience in their last IRV mayoral election when voter turnout dropped by 9 percent from their standard mayoral election in 2003. Takoma Park, Maryland, has seen its voter turnout using IRV drop to the lowest level in 12 years.
For these reasons, three of four cities that began using IRV in the last two years are considering repeal. Cary has dropped IRV, and Aspen, Colo., and Tacoma, Wash., have repeals on the ballot. Tacoma's repeal language reads "...the cost of running the IRV portion of the 2008 General Election was $1,692,663; and...the IRV portion ... proved to be expensive, complicated and confusing and the results ... were not available for weeks following the election..." That's a strong rebuke from the same elected officials who agreed to spend $1.6 million to implement IRV the previous year.
St. Paul voters should learn from others' mistakes and not switch to an expensive,
complicated and confusing election system. Free, fair elections are the hallmark of democracy and every voter deserves to be treated equally. Using IRV is far too likely to confuse and inhibit voting. IRV's voting system will leave too many voters without a vote in the final "round" of voting. Taxpayers will pay more to wait weeks for results. It seems to us like IRV is a damaging and expensive solution in search of a problem. Vote "no" on Nov. 3.
Angie Kline and Chuck Repke are local DFL activists and co-chairs of the No Bad Ballot committee, which opposes IRV. Kathy Lantry and Dave Thune are members of the St. Paul City Council. Lantry is council president.
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