Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tallying Instant runoff voting in NC. Complex, not transparent, error prone

Instant runoff voting is complex to count. It is the only election method today that is not additive, i.e it can't be simply added up at the polling places. Tallying IRV is a complex scheme of sorting, reallocating and eliminating votes until a "winner" is declared. There is no IRV software for North Carolina's new voting machines. None exists. If there were, we would be beta testing it on real elections. It is never good to be the first to use a new invention.

"There are no provisions on ES&S equipment to tabulate IRV." ~Keith Long , Voting System Project Manager for the North Carolina State Board of Elections

At the behest of pro IRV non profits, the state legislature allowed for pilots to try instant runoff voting. Cary and Hendersonville NC participated in 2007, and only Hendersonville NC participated in 2009, although Hendersonville never counted the IRV votes.

There are currently three methods proposed by the North Carolina State Board of Elections to tally instant runoff voting, only one has been used, the manual method, in Cary. Tallying procedures for instant runoff voting are error prone and complex. With optical scan - there are 2 ways to tally IRV on optical scan - 1) by hand, or 2) by running the ballots through the machines 4 times with machines reprogrammed before each run. Both are complex. But with touchscreens, instead of using the only certified option, a manual tally of the paper trail - the State Board of Elections procedures are to manually inspect a spreadsheet accumulation of the votes.

Method # 1: Tallying instant runoff voting in Cary NC in 2007: Manual method. Not easy as 1-2-3 ...Instant runoff voting - counting by hand a nightmare? tallying IRV in Cary NC in 2007.

Method # 2: Tallying instant runoff voting: North Carolina proposed optical scan method. Not easy as 1-2-3 ...Instant Runoff Voting don't like to talk about the tabulation part of IRV. It isn't for the faint of heart...

...The "automated" method means scanning each ballot up to 4 times, reprogramming the PCMCIA cards in between each scan. This post is about the automated tallying method.

Method # 3: Tallying instant runoff voting in Hendersonville NC: touchscreen nightmare Hendersonville has participated in NC's instant runoff voting pilot in 2007 and 2009, but never counted the IRV votes according to an email from Henderson Co BoE Director.

Instant runoff voting is not "easy as 1-2-3", nor is it transparent or simple. IRV violates a core principle of democracy, the KISS Principle. Voters shouldn't need a calculator to decide how they will vote, and the election tallying process should be publicly observable and understood by the layperson.

Understanding the hardware & software limitations
Refer to this document from the State Board of Elections March 6, 2007 meeting:.

· Certification issues

Current state law says we must comply with federal regulations. Timeline is an issue when it comes to upgrading current equipment. It is not known how long it will take to get new upgrades/changes through the federal certification process. We can use November 2007 as a pilot and not use IRV in May 2008 because it poses too much of a risk. May request change in legislation for retesting IRV with certified upgrades in 2009.

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