Sunday, December 7, 2008

2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV "winners" don't have a true majority

Peirce County WA claims to have winners in their RCV races - but were they real majority wins?

It doesn't appear so in more than one race. Here's what happened in the County Executive race:

Round 1

votes % transfer
Mike Lonergan 45330 15.15% -45330
Pat McCarthy 79235 26.49% 12973
Calvin Goings 69052 23.08% 8375
Shawn Bunney 105057 35.12% 13633
Write-In 458 0.15% -458
Total 299132

Exhausted by Over Votes 532 0.17%
Under Votes 13107 4.19%
total under and over 13639 4.36%

Out of a total of 312,771 ballots cast, there were 299,132 votes that were counted. No one got over 50% of the votes. So they dropped out the Mike Lonergan and the Write-In votes, and they counted the 2nd column votes for the remaining three candidates. 10,807 fewer votes were cast in the 2nd column than in the first.

Round 2

votes % % Round 1
Mike Lonergan 0

Pat McCarthy 92208 31.98% 30.83%
Calvin Goings 77427 26.85% 25.88%
Shawn Bunney 118690 41.17% 39.68%
Write-In 0

Total 288325

N9w in the first % column for round 2, they are only calculating percentages for the total runoff 288,325 votes being counted only in this round - not of the 299,132 votes counted in the first round. Using either method, no one still has over 50% of the vote. So they proceed to round 3, where 30,494 were cast than in the 1st column.

Round 3

votes % % Round 1
Mike Lonergan

Pat McCarthy 136346 50.75% 45.58%
Calvin Goings 0

Shawn Bunney 132292 49.25% 44.23%

Total 268638

They are obviously only counting the votes of the top remaining candidates, but they are using the votes of the people who voted for these two candidates from the 1st and 2nd columns. Using the totals for these two remaining candidates, one obviously has a majority of the remaining votes - 50.75% - but this candidate only has 45.58% votes of the original 299,132 cast. Not enough votes to have been declared a winner in the 1st column.

This is the big problem with people claiming IRV ensures a majority win in one election instead of two. if you don't have enough vote to get a majority win in the 1st column, all you are ever going to have is a larger plurality win.

Is a larger plurality win really worth the extra money and confusion? 63% of voters who answered a survey said "no".

But interestingly enough, the top-vote getter in the beginning lost in the end in an IRV election. That is like the 2nd time this has happened in a little over 20 IRV/RCV races. This happens about 33% of the time in traditional runoff elections.

Which do you think is more democratic?

And it happened again in County Assessor-Treasurer race. With the same 312K ballots cast, there were 262,447 votes for 6 candidates plus some write-ins. That is almost 40 thousand voters fewer voters than those who votes in the County Executive race. And I thought IRV/RCV increased voter turnout?

In order to get a true majority, the winner would have needed 131,224 votes. The person who led the race in all 4 rounds "won" the RCV race in the 4th round with 98,366 - 32,858 short of a true majority.

But the County Council, District #2 race was interesting. There were only three candidates, plus a few write-ins. That race only went two rounds - with presumably only the second column votes counted. Out of 43,661 ballots, there were exactly 40,000 votes cast. This makes calculating the majority win threshold very easy - exactly 20,000 votes. After dropping out the write-in and the lowest candidate on the ballot, in the second round the top vote getter Joyce McDonald got 19,967 votes - or 49.92% of the vote. 33 votes short of the majority.

The second-place vote Al Rose getter got12,317 votes. The third candidate Carolyn Merrival and the runoff candidates got the remaining 7716 votes. And even if all of these 7716 voters votes for Al Rose, there is no way Rose could ever beat the top vote getter McDonald - so why did they even bother to count the race - unless they really hoped McDonald would cross the real 50% threshold. Well, that is what happened. McDonald ended up with 21,078 votes - for an honest 52.70% win - not the 55.26% "preferential majority" win from only the votes of the top two vote getters.

Just like here in NC, the second-place actually got more votes in the 2nd column of the ballot than those received by the top vote-getter. But in this race, it was 4747 to 1111. And do the numbers 40,000, 4747, and 1111 bother anyone?

So in two of the three Pierce County RCV races, the first column top vote getter ended up winning. And in the last race, there was no way the second-place finisher could have overtaken the leader, so why bother with RCV? Even though Rose got 4 2nd column votes to every one received by McDonald, Rose couldn't overcome the 1st column lead McDonald had going into the second column. Do the math - there was no way that Rose could have overtaken McDonald with an RCV race.

But had there been an traditional runoff election among McDonald and Rose, there is a good chance that the people who voted for the third-place and write-in candidates would have overwhelmingly voted for Rose.

This is one way that you could avoid a traditional runoff election by re-writing the statutes to allow someone ahead by a large enough margin to not need a runoff election. even if they didn't have a majority win. Because so far, IRV didn't give a true majority win in 2 out of 3 Pierce County RCV races. If you are just going to declare a plurality win a majority win by ENRON-style accounting, why not just lower the threshold?

Chris Telesca

63% of Pierce County WA voters don't like Ranked Choice Voting that cost $4.14 per registered voter

Results are in: 63 percent disliked Ranked Choice Voting
Auditor defends ranked choice
Published: December 6th, 2008 12:05 AM | Updated: December 6th, 2008 01:45 AM

90,738 Pierce County voters answered a questionnaire included with their ballots that asked, “Did you like this new Ranked Choice Voting method?”
The results:
Yes: 29,206 (32%)
No: 56,751 (63%)
Undecided: 4,781 (5%)

Pierce County spent a lot of money on a new voting method for a few county offices in November’s election, and most voters didn’t like it a bit.

Auditor Pat McCarthy said ranked-choice voting will cost county taxpayers about $1.7 million, which is half of the overall $3.4 million it cost to put on the 2008 general election.

Although Pierce County voters changed the county charter last year to allow the new voting method, it appears they’ve changed their collective mind. Two of three voters who responded to a survey were opposed to the concept.

“It was overwhelming,” McCarthy told members of the state Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee on Friday. “The majority did not like it.”

That was based on nearly 91,000 voters who filled out a questionnaire that accompanied mail-in ballots.

Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called instant runoff voting, allowed voters to indicate their first, second and third choice in a race. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the total number of votes in the first round of counting, the second choice on ballots of the last-place candidate are then counted. That continues until one candidate finally gets a majority.

McCarthy, who won a close election in a four-way race for county executive, joined election officials from Yakima and Chelan counties to give state lawmakers a report on the election. The state used online voter registration, and 37 of the 39 counties – all but King and Pierce – conducted their elections entirely by mail.

Pierce was the only county to use ranked-choice voting, and for only a few county races. Pierce voters got a second, conventional ballot to vote for president, governor, Congress and local races.

McCarthy said she considered the election “an amazing success,” even though she didn’t care much for the new method. She said the computer system and algorithms worked and that most voters understood how to fill out the ballots.

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, a committee member, took issue with that assessment.

“How can you say it was a success when voters didn’t know who the executive was for two weeks?” Roach asked. “That absolutely was a disaster.”

Processing ranked-choice ballots did slow down the tally, McCarthy said, but the method had nothing to do with how close the races were. Her own race for executive wasn’t decided until three weeks. But McCarthy pointed out that a couple of legislative races were so close that even using conventional voting methods, they required a recount and weren’t decided until earlier this week.

The decision to adopt the new voting method was approved by 53 percent of voters. McCarthy said she thinks voters were eager to switch to something else because they were still angry about the previous election when they were forced to pick a Democratic, Republican or other political party’s slate of candidates.

She said she hopes the County Council will give voters a chance to reconsider the charter amendment that created ranked-choice voting.

Susan Eidenschink, treasurer of the Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters, blamed the long lines at the polls on Election Day on McCarthy’s decision to have fewer polling places.

“We’re interested in seeing it expanded,” she said of ranked choice. “We feel it definitely deserves more of a trial than this one election.”

Krist Novoselic, chairman of FairVote, echoed that sentiment. The former Nirvana bassist is now a local government official in rural Wahkiakum County and said he’s worked to get Memphis, Tenn., and Telluride, Colo., to try ranked-choice voting.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, said she’s been listening for years to people and groups who are supporters of the new voting method, but she has no interest in seeing it extend beyond the borders of Pierce County.

“I’m with those folks who said they were confused,” Fairley said.

“This sounds just insane,” said Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, a committee member.

Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436

Let's see - Pierce County had 411,103 registered voters for the November elections. Divide $3.4 million by 411,103 gives you $8.27 per registered voter. RCV cost them $1.7 million or $4.14 per registered voter.

Using the number of registered voters in NC obtained from the SBOE at, multiply 6,286,207 registered voters times $4.14 and that gives you almost $26 million to do IRV in North Carolina in statewide races - not free or even as cheap at IRV supporters have claimed.

This is even more expensive than the cost estimates from three MD legislature fiscal studies ranging from $3.08 to over $3.50 per registered voter - not including costs for software and hardware that Peirce County supposedly used for their RCV race.

So how is doing a separate statewide runoff at $3.5 to $5 million across the state more expensive than doing IRV/RCV?

Chris Telesca