Saturday, July 17, 2010

Don Frantz, the only person elected by instant runoff voting in NC speaks out

And yes, Don points out that with instant runoff voting there is voter confusion, lack of confidence in the system, and often the result of IRV is a plurality "win". Don, the only person ever elected with IRV votes says IRV is not worth it. Don says "To me the number one concern is election integrity. If we can’t trust the election process we’ve got, I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care what the turnout is."

Statement of Donald Frantz, Member of Cary Town Council
March 12, 2009 Meeting of Cary Town Council
Transcribed by Andrew Silver from video recording at

I’d like to preface my comments just letting folks in the audience know that I was elected utilizing instant runoff voting. I’m actually the first candidate in the state of North Carolina to ever be elected utilizing instant runoff voting. So if you ever play trivial pursuit and that’s the question, then you know what the answer is. So I kind of know a thing or two about it and unfortunately I was the guinea pig. And It wasn’t really the best experience I ever had to go through. But those were the rules and we all played by them. There’s actually a gentleman sitting in the audience whom I do respect quite a bit that believes I won my election because of instant runoff voting, and while I would argue with him – you know – tooth and nail, he’s entitled to his opinion and I’ve got mine, and I really didn’t think there was much broken with our current system. But, you know, Hank, we always have to try something new.

There’s a number of factors to consider – very important factors to consider – when deciding what type of election we want to go with. There’s cost, voter turnout, participation, time. . .whatever. To me the number one concern is election integrity. If we can’t trust the election process we’ve got, I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care what the turnout is.

Instant runoff voting – the machines count the first vote. We all know on the first go round who got what. But then the votes are transported to the board of elections. They’re taken out of their locked box. They’re put in little baggies and sorted. and then when it’s time to count the ballots, they’re actually all pulled out of the bags and put on the table, and a bunch of different hands are in the pile, and you’re moving one over here and one over there. You’re getting the first and second place finishers out. You set them in one pile. You go through and you get the third place finishers, fourth place finishers. If they didn’t pick a second and third candidate, you put them in another pile.

You end up with all these piles on the table. And then you try to narrow it down to the non-top two vote getters that did pick a second or a third. And then you start trying to count those by hand. My election district, B, it’s a very small district in town. I’ve got 8 precincts. Alittle over 3000 votes were cast. And it took the better part of a day to hand count those ballots, and it took all of a day to hand count them and get the math right. When I left the process, I had won by 48 votes. An hour later to find out I was up by 25 votes, because somebody didn’t clear out a number on a calculator. To find out the next day I was up by 49 votes.

The numbers kept changing. I wasn’t very confident in what I was experiencing. I would feel a lot more confident about IRV if the machines could actually count the ballots, first, second, and third. When – after the ballots were hand counted and sorted and all that initial stuff was done, they go back in their baggies and back in their little boxes and what not. And then the elections director, by herself, recounted all those ballots in a room. No observers – I didn’t get to observe, put it that way. So, that was a big concern of mine, you know. I’m glad the – I mean I respect Cherie Poucher a lot. I had a great experience with her. I’m glad she doesn’t hate my guts, because I probably wouldn’t have won if she did.

We’ve heard that the machines can now somehow count the ballots, but they couldn’t count them two years ago. We’ve heard that the state is going to allow that. I’ve still got questions as far as – you know – where’s the software coming from? Who’s providing it? Is it something that Fairvote’s come up with? Is it something designed by a special interest group? Has it been tested, or are we a guinea pig now on can the machines count the ballots? I don’t know, but I don’t know that I want to subject three of my colleagues to this experiment. And actually I took exception to the word “experiment.” That just rubs me wrong.

I think IRV treats voters ballots unequally. Some ballots get counted twice. Some only get counted once. In 2005, in the primary election, I voted for one candidate. But as the runoff went on, I changed my vote. I voted for a different candidate come the final election, because I heard some things that changed my mind. I saw people in a different light. With IRV, I don’t have the option to change my mind. It assumes I am going to come back and cast my ballot for the same candidate. I can tell you the time that I didn’t do it.

There is some confusion as evidenced by our biennial survey. Obviously the majority of Cary citizens did find the experience pretty easy to understand and didn’t have that many problems with it. But over 30% did find it somewhat confusing and over 20% found it very confusing – or did not understand at all, I think is what it says here. When you come to show up to vote and you just have one box to mark I don’t know anybody that finds that confusing. So to me – even if you just confuse 10% of the people, that’s 10% too many. When we’re confusing 20% of the people, that’s really too many.

I do have some concerns with special interest groups that have been diving into this issue. I just – I appreciate the Cary citizens that have shown up to speak tonight. There’s issues of manipulation involved. My next election I’m worried about one of my opponents - I get one of my well-liked buddies in the community to run and we do this whole run on us “Vote for us 1-2” campaign, ensuring at least one of us wins. It actually happened in my race. One of the candidates contacted my other opponent to see did they want to run 1 and 2 together. Now thankfully that opponent said “Heck, no.” and then we talked about it and we decided that was not something we wanted to do. That concerns me.

Voter turnout. The argument for that is really weird. It’s we want to increase voter turnout, so let’s play with the way we elect people. Let’s change the process. Quite frankly – we just saw it in the last presidential election. If you want to increase voter turnout, get some good candidates to run. Most of the time you are voting for the lesser of two evils. The majority of candidates that we have to choose from these days suck, you know. The candidate is the one that motivates people to get out of bed or get off the couch and go to the polls and cast a vote. I’m not going to show up at the polls and go “Whoo! I get to mark 3 bubbles now instead of one.” It’s not inspiring me to vote, you know. But like we just saw Barack Obama. He inspired folks. He motivated folks. He got people to the polls. That was pretty impressive. I agree with Mr. Smith’s comment. You know, we want to increase voter participation, but yet we hold our elections in October when nobody’s looking for an election, and then we hold them in off years when we’re not running with state candidates or presidential candidates. “Election – what, that was yesterday?” Nobody knows. So if you want to have 50% voter turnout in the Cary council election let’s do it the same time as state races. We’ll do it in November.

Cost is a concern to me. Especially this year, given the budget, you know. We’re all going to have to make some really tough decisions. IRV is considerably cheaper than traditional runoffs. But, seeing that, in my research – trust me, I have researched it. When I had to go through this I had no idea what I was getting myself into, so I did a lot of research on IRV. Basically – I would estimate 90% of the elections I studied, the person who won the first go round won the second go round. It did not change the outcome. So if you really want to view the right election, give citizens one voice, one vote – do plurality. You know, you show up and you mark one bubble and you go home. The person with the most bubbles wins. If there’s a concern over 8 people running for the same office, then maybe we should consider setting a threshold. Instead of saying, “OK, well 50% - well, OK maybe you have to break 35 or 40 percent on the first go round, and if a candidate does, no instant runoff, no runoff. The election’s over. You got the most votes, you win.” But if there’s 5 people running and they all get 20% and one got 21% - I can see the need for some form of runoff system. I really can, and yes, instant runoff is going to be the cheapest, but with the other concerns I have, I just, I don’t know if it’s the way to go.

Durham is currently – the Durham board of elections is currently trying to convince their city council to go back to plurality elections. Ronald Gregory, who’s the chair of the Durham board of elections states “The plurality method is the only method that ensures one vote, one election voting process,” and he also (inaudible). My preference is to go to plurality elections. If there is some form – have a concern with multiple candidates and no clear winner then maybe we should look at some kind of threshold that they have to break.

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Note - Cary, North Carolina ultimately decided to keep their majority elections with traditional 1-1 runoffs. They considered plurality but decided they wanted what they had before IRV.
April 13, 2009 Cary to Hold Public Hearing to Consider Changing Election Method

A Cary City Council election goes to traditional runoff in November 2009, no one from Cary says they wish they had IRV:
November 6, 2009 Jennifer Robinson Wins Run-Off in District A
As previously reported, the October 6 election for Cary Town Council (District A) ended in a run-off between incumbent Jennifer Robinson and challenger Lori Bush. In October, Ms. Robinson garnered 49.9 percent of the vote to Lori Bush’s 42.3 percent. On November 3, Jennifer Robinson won her third term representing Cary’s largest district.

November 3 results:
Jennifer Robinson 53.76% 2,337 votes
Lori Bush 46.12% 2,005 votes
Write-in .12% 5 votes
Congratulations go out to Jennifer Robinson.

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