Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why San Francisco's instant runoff voting does not allow ranking of all candidates

The Million Dollar question still unasked is: WHY DOESN'T SAN FRANCISCO ALLOW VOTERS TO RANK ALL CANDIDATES THAT ARE ON THE BALLOT? The short answer is paper ballots.

There's been a slew of articles reporting on the lawsuit filed against San Francisco's IRV system.The lawsuit is opposing the limitation of rankings - you can only rank 3. The comments to the articles are hilarious in some cases, informative in others, and lined with mud-slinging in others.

But not one news article so far has asked the big question: WHY doesn't San Francisco allow voters to rank all candidates who are on the ballot?

Existing paper ballot systems cannot accommodate ranking all candidates now, nor in 2003. San Francisco voters refused to ditch their paper ballot optical scanners, so a compromise was made.

Here's the history:

The Los Angeles Voter Empowerment Circle recommended touch screen voting machines for IRV to the state of California in 2003: "touch screen machines for DRE systems are also better able to ccommodate alternative voting methods such as Instant Runoff Voting. We therefore believe that DRE systems are preferable to paper-based systems, such as punch cards or optical scans.

From the San Francisco Dept of Elections report on IRV in 2004. Beginning in April 2002, the City and ES&S began discussions on how to meet the new Charter mandate. The discussions involved not only how to implement an RCV voting system, but how to properly modify an existing contract that did not contemplate RCV. The uncertainty on how to best proceed in the development, certification, and implementation of an RCV system lengthened the amount of time required to modify and finalize the parties’ agreement. During the initial discussions, ES&S considered the best approach was for the City to move to touch-screen voting systems, ..although there was no funding or widespread support to move away from the City’s paper ballot voting system.

ES&S realized that its current paper ballot system could not provide voters the opportunity to rank all candidates that qualified for the ballot. For instance, if 22 candidates qualified for one contest, the system could not accommodate voters making 22 selections in order of their preference among the candidates. Touch-screen systems could most likely accommodate the ranking of all candidates.

For absentee voting, however, the formatting for the paper ballots for the current optical scan system limits the number of choices. The RCV Charter amendment allows for voters to have no less than three selections for an RCV contest if it is not technically feasible for the system to allow for voters to rank all of the candidates on the ballot. Thus, the City agreed to have its system modified to allow voters three rankings among the qualified candidates appearing on the RCV ballot.

Then, you could say - oh there are touchscreens with "paper trails" made, but the problem is that
many states are banning touchscreens because of reliability and accuracy failures. As a result, voting vendors are not producing them nor are they spending research and design money on them.

San Francisco could buy more IRV able voting machines again, after they are invented, tested, and federally certified. And as with all other instant runoff voting voting systems,
SF could work out the bugs in the new systems, in real live elections.

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