Sunday, June 29, 2008

Intellectually dishonest claims for IRV

Recent pro-IRV op-ed pieces, letters to the editor and blog entries have claimed the statewide runoff election for Labor Commissioner cost about $4 million to operate almost 3,000 polling places across the state for about 75,000 voters - about more than $50 a voter. And some supporters are pushing to extend the IRV pilot for another 3 years starting in 2009 - with little or any real discussion of the issues.

It's not intellectually honest to calculate election costs that way. And we really need to have a open discussion and debate about IRV someplace other than a committee meeting dominated by pro-IRV lobbyists.

If you really want to calculate election costs, you do it based on the on the number of registered voters - not on the number of voters who turn out. And so if a runoff cost about $4 million, that works out to be 69 cents per registered voter this year, and 17 cents each year spread out over 4 years (which is how often you have needed a runoff). If you use $3.5 million, it's even cheaper - 60 cents per registered voter this year and 15 cents per year spread out over 4 years.

Our own General Assembly doesn't know how much it would cost to implement IRV. That is because so far they have let the State Board of Elections staff and non-profit IRV advocates run the show. Other states don't let advocates call all the shots. The Maryland General Assembly considered IRV three times - in 2001, 2006 and 2008 - and each time it failed. But at least they did fiscal studies to determine costs for implementing IRV - and those costs are high. If you use the $3.08 to $3.52 costs per registered voter from the Maryland General Assembly fiscal studies for the first year implementation and 48 cents voter education each year after that you are looking at taking the costs per year for the first 4 years of IRV between $1.01 and $1.13 - a whole lot more expensive than 15 to 17 cents for traditional runoff elections that don't get used often. And you gotta spend that money even if you get a winner without the IRV tabulation.

But it would cost $18 million to implement IRV statewide even if all candidates crossed the threshold with the first column votes. By the presidential election year of 2040, you are looking at spending between $37 million and $67 million more with IRV than with traditional elections and a separate runoff election. Does it make sense to always have to pay a lot of money for something you may not even need to use, or pay a little money for something whenever you need it? And what is the cost of lowered election integrity and public confidence in elections if the average citizen saw how badly the Wake BOE did the Cary IRV tabulation? Do you think that the public wants a non-profit to manage a pilot program that the General Assembly charged the SBOE with running? Do you think they wanted FairVote and The Election Reform Society to pay for Johnnie McLean to travel to Scotland to observe their elections and write a glowing report on their election - but not even show up for the Cary IRV tabulation?

We would do better to spend money on voter education and increasing voter turnout at all our elections rather than spending it on a complex, confusing and costly method that won't do a thing to increase voter turnout for the first election.

Rep. Paul Luebke from Durham is already pushing for an extension of his 2006 IRV pilot program bill. He has already amended a Senate Election Law bill (SB1263) to extend the pilot program. And even though some members of the committee that is considering that bill are aware of the risks IRV posed to the May primary election - they are still going to vote in favor of the bill.

Why - because they care getting a distorted report on the results of the pilot - consisting almost exclusively of information from IRV advocacy groups. Do you think they know that the Hendersonville didn't need to tabulate IRV for their elections, and that Wake County BOE didn't follow the SBOE procedures and screwed up the IRV tabulation?

Rep. Luebke claims that he wants to have a discussion about IRV if and when he returns to the General Assembly in 2009. Maybe we should have that discussion NOW, before we talk about extending the pilot? Especially when the SBOE knew there was a risk in using it for the May 2008 primary election.

Chris Telesca

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