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

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