Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tallying instant runoff voting in Cary NC in 2007: Manual method. Not easy as 1-2-3

Instant Runoff Voting don't like to talk about the tabulation part of IRV. 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 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. 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 manual tally.

1) Manual count as used in Cary NC in October 2007

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!

This is just one reason why Cary, North Carolina chose not to participate in the IRV pilot a second time.

"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." ~ Don Frantz Cary City Council member.

In the Cary, North Carolina "instant runoff" pilot, since the voting machines could not tabulate IRV, the ballots had to be manually sorted for the “runoff”. A few errors cascaded into a miscount, and ballots had to be recounted. The election workers count didn't match the candidates' informal count. An "audit" was done (not in a public meeting) and it resulted in the ballots being recounted and a "correction" of the results. See "Critics Take Runoff Concerns to Elections Board" NBC 17
To “automate” the counting process would mean spending millions of dollars on new voting machines

North Carolina has two different voting machines, some counties use a blend of the two: ES&S M100 optical scan and iVotronics with RTAL (paper trail). Every county (including touchscreen counties) would have some absentee by mail ballots which would be counted by optical scan. Consider that the results would have to be combined somehow.

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