Sunday, June 20, 2010

North Carolina runoff elections? Instant Runoff Voting is no answer

North Carolina has a statewide runoff election on June 22, 2010. Some groups are suggesting that North Carolina should resort to "instant runoffs" in order to avoid costly low turnout runoff elections. Don't be fooled, implementing IRV in North Carolina is not feasible and would have unintended consequences. IRV has never been used for a statewide election. North Carolina should not be the guinea pig for such a drastic experiment. IRV is as well intentioned but flawed election method.
A better solution is to not have runoff elections at all. 42 states do not hold statewide runoff elections. [ Journal Record, The (Oklahoma City Aug 8, 2006]

Instant runoff voting is no solution: IRV is not not instant, is not fair to voters, does not provide the same results as a one to one runoff election, often fails to provide a majority win, is complex to count, costly to administer and can create chaos.

nstant runoff voting is not feasible for statewide elections. Cary North Carolina had trouble just counting 3,000 IRV votes correctly in 2007. Keith Long, Voting Systems Project Manager for the NC State Board of Elections said that implementing IRV was "like trying to put a square tire on a car."

IRV is difficult and complex to count:
"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 Jan 7, 2008
IRV increases reliance on more complex technology, making audits and recounts more prohibitive, further eroding election transparency. Because IRV is not additive, no matter what voting system is used, the ballots, (electronic or optical scan) have to be hauled away from where they are cast to a central location to be counted. This increases the chance of fraud or lost votes. IRV tallying software utilizes a complex algorithm that makes the process even more opaque.
IRV was too dangerous to use in local jurisdictions in 2008:
"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." ~ NC State Board of Elections March 6, 2007 (There were no certified upgrades).
If you thought the Minnesota US Senate recount was lengthy, laborious and contentious, how much more so would an IRV recount be? Why endanger public confidence in elections? Once you obligate to IRV, your backs will be against the wall - ready or not, IRV will take priority over reliability, accuracy, affordability, and transparency.

The realities of counting IRV: Cary & Hendersonville are the only cities in the entire state of North Carolina to participate in instant runoff voting pilots. The IRV votes came into play in Cary District B in 2007- the winner had less than 40 percent of the first-choice votes cast, and less than 50 percent of the votes of people who showed up on Election Day. The election officials couldn't even count just 3000 IRV votes correctly.
Instant runoff voting - counting by hand a nightmare? tallying IRV in Cary NC in 2007. (Optical Scan Ballots)
It was difficult to count just 3,000 ballots correctly. Officials had to manually tally the IRV results for the Cary, NC “instant runoff”. There was confusion during the counting and ballots were miscounted and not properly allocated to the candidates. Friday, the day after the "runoff" or count of the 2nd round, the election director performed an audit, according to the media. Errors were discovered and the audit extended into a full blown recount...
....According to Chris Telesca who observed the IRV counting in Wake County, NC, to hand-process a little over 3000 paper ballots (after the first choice votes were counted on the op-scan machines) when there were only 3 candidates plus a few write-ins for the Cary district B, single member town council seat, and the counting went only two rounds
it took 6 sorting stacks for each of 12 ballot groupings or precincts (8 precincts plus absentee by mail in Cary, board of elections one-stop site, the Cary one-stop site, provisional ballots- Cary, and possibly some transfer votes from another county which were eligible to vote in the Cary IRV contest) or 12 times 6 stacks = 72 stacks.
Wake County officials decided to put each stack in a separate plastic bag to keep track. This would not be possible if there were more than one IRV contest because each contest requires independent sorting and stacking to count.
The procedure was very complicated, but it was there in print. Even so, the Wake Board of Elections (BOE) didn’t follow it. There was no overhead projector so that observers could follow the process. Non Board members were sorting the ballots into stacks which was hard to follow. Nonetheless, observers and the Board came up with different totals at the end of the day. The next day, the different totals were determined to be caused by a calculator error that was discovered in an “audit” – that also discovered a few missing votes...Just 3,000 ballots!
Hendersonville used IRV in 2007 & 2009 & never counted or reported any of the IRV votes. There is no federally approved software to count instant runoff voting so the NC State BoE set up a complex "workaround" to help out Henderson County, NC, a touchscreen jurisdiction. See Instant Runoff - If I Were Crazy, I'd Count Votes THIS Way ...There are over 100 steps in the process. Luckily there was no "runoff" in either election so the work around was not used.

Do voters understand Instant Runoff Voting? IRV leaves some voters behind:
Cary, North Carolina tried Instant Runoff Voting in 2007 and said No More. The results of Cary NC’s 2008 bi-annual citizen survey indicate that a significant percent of voters do not understand IRV. The mean was 5.83 with 58.6% on the “understand” side (above 5) of the scale and 30.6% on the “not understand” side (Figure 19). This includes 22.0% who indicated they do not understand at all. Overall this indicates a degree of misunderstanding among the respondents. Keep in mind that Cary is the city with the most Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. for towns larger than 75,000 people
Hendersonville NC voters poll: 19.4% of Hendersonville NC voters polled came to the polls in 2009 unprepared to rank their choices according to a survey by Professor Michael Cobb. of NCSU .

Cary Town Council member Don Frantz, who was elected by IRV said

"When our town agreed to IRV in 2007, it was kind of rush job..There was a lot of pushback, the public wasn’t involved … I do not like instant runoff voting and have given my reasons as to why many times. I'll take in elections over funny math and 30% voter confusion any day."
Chuck Herrin, a certified white hat hacker and IT certification specialist advised North Carolina lawmakers that:
"IRV introduces a more confusing system in terms of audit ability and security, since the ballots are more complex and normal indicators such as exit polls will not be able to easily reflect IRV results. Tracing back the will of the voter in the event of problems or fraud would be more difficult with IRV until a reliable procedure and design is in place, and any abuses are much less likely to be detected since the whole point of the IRV system is avoiding recounts."
Does IRV save money? We can't measure if IRV has truly saved money in North Carolina because pro IRV groups donated much of the voter education and exit polling labor.
Jurisdictions that have professional fiscal analysis or actual cost information have shown that IRV increases costs. See reports from Maine, Maryland, Minneapolis MN, Pierce County Washington, Vermont and San Francisco here . Minneapolis, Minnesota learned that IRV increases costs of elections, the hard way last month:
Monday, May 24, 2010 The continuing cost of Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis $244,000 Minneapolis Council Members are dismayed that Instant Runoff Voting did not work as touted. So far, instead of saving money and increasing turnout - IRV has added an additional $244,000 in costs each year, and in the city's first IRV election, turnout was the lowest in over 100 year
The latest claim about instant runoff voting is that it magically "empowers communities of color" . The truth is that Instant Runoff Voting does not empower communities of color and may harm them::
If instant runoff voting "empowers communities of color" then WHY does Takoma Park Maryland continue to elect an all white city council?
IRV is bad for voters. A 2008 Civil Grand Jury advised San Francisco that voters and poll workers did not understand IRV. Grand Jury Report
IRV eliminates opportunity. In a radio interview, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said that IRV is really, really bad, "it eliminates opportunity". Listen here via youtube
North Carolina NAACP leader on IRV: "I am absolutely to the core opposed to instant runoff voting. And I believe that the issue of Instant runoff voting has clouded the discussions. And I want to make it very clear that that will cost the city money, not save the city money. Because I promise you that I will be protecting my right to vote, with legal action should you choose to do that. . Stella Adams - Vice Chair of NC Democratic Party and Housing Chair and Economic Empowerment Coordinator at NC NAACP speaking at Durham North Carolina City Council meeting April 7, 2009
Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People: This whole idea is that voting is a landmark of the people… even if its expensive. We spend a whole a lot of money on…..Just vote it down (non partisan plurality elections).I’m not going to be for instant runoff voting either....." Dr. Lavonia Allison - President of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People at Durham City Council meeting April 7, 2009 .

7 Ways Instant Runoff Voting Undermines North Carolina Verified Voting law
Instant runoff voting undermines key principles of North Carolina's nationally respected verified voting law, known as The Public Confidence in Election Act. This law was passed in August 2005 after hard work by activists and citizens from around the state. This law has done much to restore the integrity in our elections caused by faulty paperless voting machines and lack of standards for voting systems and vendors. IRV threatens key tenets of that law....
There is no certified software to tally IRV with, so uncertified "work-arounds" have been instituted. In touchscreen counties the NC SBoE says for purposes of IRV, the manual hand to eye count of the voter verified paper trail no longer rules, instead officials will substitute a single spreadsheet in for "manual counting". Because IRV is not additive, votes have to be centrally tallied, i.e hauled away from where cast to be counted at another location. IRV votes are not counted or reported on election night either. Worse, some IRV votes are never counted or reported.

Several jurisdictions have tried IRV and abandoned it. There's a reason why. See Instant Runoff Voting rejected by Sunnyvale, Burlington, Pierce Co, Cary. Aspen in Nov? and also Aspen Instant Runoff Voting--Up for Repeal in November 2010 .

There can be unintended consequences of IRV such as increased cost, labor, changes in procedures and policies, and in some cases a decreased confidence in the outcome of election results.

Learn more, watch these videos
Is Instant Runoff Voting Democratic? A analysis of the Burlington, VT election.

Fact Checking Instant Runoff Voting talking points - proof that IRV harms vulnerable voters

Best regards, Joyce McCloy

NC Coalition for Verified Voting and Instant Runoff Voting Facts V Fiction"
We study the impact of instant runoff voting on voters rights, election administration and election outcome. Our goal is to ensure the dignity and integrity of the intention of each voting citizen. We welcome inquiries from the media, public officials, voter advocacy groups and concerned citizens." See, our blog and Contact Joyce McCloy by email: info (at) or by phone at (336) 794-1240

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