Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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. Tallying is a problem because IRV is not "additive", in other words, you can't simply add up the results, you have to follow a complex algorithm to sort, eliminate and reallocate the votes.

"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

There are currently 2 ways to tally IRV on optical scan ballots in North Carolina: 1) The manual counting of optical scan ballots requires sorting ballots into piles. That method is described here. 2)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.

"Automated" method of counting IRV as proposed to Cary City council by the State Board of Elections:

This letter to the Cary City Council describes how to tally instant runoff voting using North Carolina's optical scan voting machines.

This process requires handling a single set of ballots multiple times, running each individual balllot through a single scanner 4 times, burning 4 separate memory cards (each different) for a single election contest. The opportunity for error is still great and one single mistake could change the outcome of the election.

Mar 17 Cary IRV M100
Instant Runoff Voting
Single-Seat Contests
ES&S Optical Scan Tabulation Procedures
Version ID OS1-2009.1.1

To: Council Members, Town of Cary Re: Instant Runoff Voting Dear Council Members: The North Carolina State Board of Elections has prepared a procedure to process Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) optical scan ballots using the fully certified Model 100 voting equipment to sort and tabulate the votes. The attached is an overview of the optical scan IRV tabulation methods that are in effect for the 2009 IRV Pilot Program subject to State Board of Elections revisions. Sincerely,

Gary O Bartlett

Instant Runoff Voting
Single-Seat Contests
ES&S Optical Scan Tabulation Procedures
Version ID OS1-2009.1.1
The purpose of this document is to instruct election officials in North Carolina in the steps required to use existing voting tabulation equipment and current versions of both software and firmware to allow a complete electronic sort and count of IRV ballots for the purpose of determining a winner in a singleseat contest.

The procedure detailed herein makes use of functionality in HPM allowing the creation of a subset election from an existing election (basically a copy of the existing coding), with subsequent modification of the coding to restrict the M100 tabulators and Unity ERM to evaluating only the runoff contest, and tallying and reporting votes for only the runoff candidates.

Due to equipment limitations, this procedure requires two distinct ballot scan runs. In the first run, ballots are scanned solely for the purpose of identifying ballots containing overvotes within any of the three choice selections in the runoff contest, so that those ballots may be properly segregated. A ballot with an overvote in the second choice selection may still count as a first choice vote; a ballot with an overvote in the third choice selection may still count as either a first choice or second choice vote.

The second scan run requires the use of three PCMCIA cards per Unity precinct, one for each of the selection options in the runoff contest. Using the first card, a ballot’s first choice selection is evaluated and the ballot accepted if a valid first choice vote is detected; otherwise the ballot is rejected so that it can enter the queue for the second choice. Similarly, the second card is used to accept or reject ballots based on the evaluation of the second choice selection, and the third card for the third choice selection.
Any ballots rejected by the M100 using the third card are counted as undervotes. The procedure allows for the simultaneous use of three M100 tabulators per precinct, if desired.

Alternately, a jurisdiction using optical scan ballots for Instant Runoff Voting may use the SBE approved 2007 Pilot Program method of hand sorting and hand tabulating the ballots after the first round of vote tabulation.

OS1-2009.1.1 IRV Single-Seat Optical Scan Tabulation Overview
What this means:

Ballots will still be centrally counted.

Officials will need 4 memory cards to count a precinct instead of just one.
Election officials will have to "burn" 4 different memory cards (instead of 1) to scan a single Unity precinct In burning those cards, the official will recreate the election onto each different card, and instruct each card to ignore a different part of the contest and record a different part. (more room for error as complexity increases).

Per Kathy Dopp of US Counts Votes explains the method:

This "opti-scan" machine IRV counting method requires (to accomplish just this one simple counting round for only one election contest) feeding each ballot one at a time by hand through the precinct opti-scanners up to FOUR TIMES with the optical scanner needing a differently programmed PCMCIA card in it for each of these four "counts", during which poll workers must pay close attention to whether or not each ballot is "rejected" or "accepted" and put each ballot in a correct pile depending on which stack it comes from and whether it is rejected or accepted by the M100.

...So the ballots must be resorted and re-fed one at a time into the optical scanner four (4) times the number of IRV election contests. E.g. If there are three IRV contests on the ballots, then many individual ballots could be scanned and resorted up to twelve (12) times each!

The four ballot runs through the opti-scanners for each IRV contest are done to determine the:

1. over-votes in each ballot position

2. 1st choice votes for the two continuing candidates

3. 2nd choice votes for the two continuing candidates

4. 3rd choice votes for the two continuing candidates

Are the election officials going to create the three PCMCIA cards accurately for EACH precinct or poll loc for each IRV contest, label them accurately and make sure that the right card is inserted at the exact right time in the process?

Purchases must be made of at least 3 extra PCMCIA cards for EACH polling place and buying 3 backup PCMCIA cards for each polling place would be helpful as well in case any of them fail ...
Bob Joyce at the NC Institute of Govt, who has been tasked with explaining the above letter, advised that:

Provisional ballots may go uncounted. Provisional ballots will be counted at the discretion of election officials, if they decide that the provisional ballots would not affect the outcome of the election, they can ignore them. This however, does not mesh with Section 302(a) 4 and 5 of the Help America Vote Act, which says that all valid provisional ballots MUST be counted.

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