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."