Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Instant Runoff Virus hits play elections!

IRV can't even ensure a majority winner in a play election!

Was taking a look at some IRV articles on line, and found yet another shining example of how IRV doesn't ensure a majority winner in a single election - and not even a real one!

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association hosted a demonstration RCV election presumably organized by FairVoteMN.

Lyndale Neighborhood Association hosted a demonstration Ranked Choice Voting election at its annual meeting on June 22nd to educate residents about the way they’ll vote in the upcoming November elections in Minneapolis.

Contestants were desserts brought by neighborhood residents. The ballot line- up included:

Salted Nut Bars
Sweet Potato Pie
Caramel Pecan bars
Scones & Cream
Bundt cake

After sampling the candidates, guests filled out a ranked ballot, marking their first choice, and second and third choices if they wished. By ranking candidates in preference order, voters know their vote will continue to count if there is a runoff and their favorite candidate is eliminated in round one. A candidate needs 50% + 1 vote to win in a single-winner election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes outright, a runoff is triggered. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes for that candidate are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the second preferences on those voters’ ballots. This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority of votes.

Results of the Lyndale dessert election

A total of 29 ballots were cast. One voter marked two candidates for first choice, invalidating the ballot. As in any election, you can only vote for one candidate at a time. With Ranked Choice, you may vote for one candidate for 1st choice, one for 2nd choice and one for 3rd choice.

28 votes cast in the first round, and one guy turns in a ballot with no choices made. But with 28 votes cast, the threshold for winning on the first round is half of 28 plus one vote - or 15 votes. No one had 15 votes at the end of the 1st round, so it went to IRV.

It was a competitive election and no candidate received the majority (50 % + 1) of votes needed to win, triggering an “instant” runoff. Bundt Cake was the most popular, receiving 10 votes.

The candidate in last place, Sweet Potato Pie, was eliminated and that voter’s ballot was reallocated to the voter's second choice on the ballot, Caramel Pecan Bars. No candidate still had a majority of a votes.

In the next round, Scones & Cream was eliminated and votes for that candidate were redistributed to those voters' next preferences indicated on each ballot.

Another round was needed to determine the winner. In round 4, Caramel Pecan Bars was eliminated and those votes were redistributed to next preferences on each ballot. Five of those ballots did not have additional preferences marked and were exhausted.

Bundt Cake, the front runner in round 1, won a majority of votes cast in Round 4!

Demonstration elections are an excellent way to teach voters about Ranked Choice Voting and to get them ready to vote 1-2-3 in November.

Contact us if your neigbhorhood or organization would like to conduct a mock election. You provide the candidates and we can provide and count the ballots! We can also provide a speaker to explain how Ranked Choice Voting works. Contact

Now let's do a real analysis of the election. Bundt cake had 10 votes at the end of the 1st round. There were still 28 votes at the end of the 2nd round, but no one had reached the threshold of 15, so they went to the third round. Bundt cake picked up no votes in this round.

After the 3rd round, still no majority winner of 15 votes, so they went to the 4th round. Bundt cake picked up 3 votes for a total of 13 votes at the end of round 3 - but still not enough votes to reach the threshold of 15 and win the election.

Funny thing happened in the 4th round - the turnout dropped! 5 people just didn't give a damn anymore - they must have thought this was a silly game (I agree with them). So instead of 28 votes, they had 23 to deal with. Half of 23 is 11.5, and you round up to the next highest number which is 12. So bundt cake still had 13 votes which wasn't enough votes to win the contest at the end of round 3 - but 13 votes was enough to win the race at the end of round 4 without picking up a single extra vote - because the threshold changed simply because 5 people dropped out of the election!

In other words, the bizarre and complicated rules of IRV allow someone to win by changing the threshold at the end of the election - dropping the threshold from 15 to 12 to avoid having a real runoff election.

Bundt cake won the race because of a manufactured majority made possible by Instant Runoff Voodoo! Strangely enough, there is no indication if the good people of the Lyndale Neighbohood Association questioned the results of the race!

I wonder if they understood they were being conned by Instant Runoff Voodoo?

But perhaps the real question is why would anyone thinking that voting for food is a good example for use in Instant Runoff Voting? It's not like anyone is really voting for the dessert that will be served at all functions from now on. This vote has no real-world consequences other than to make people feel comfortable with IRV.

The mere fact that this community association accepted the results of the election and didn't object to the threshold lowering shows that people don't understand it well enough to use it on Election Day. I only hope that they pay attention while the votes are counted and ask questions when they don't understand something and don't accept whatever FairyTaleVote tells them as the Gospel.

Would food allergies and other physical health issues effect just the voting, or would it also effect the selection of deserts to be tasted? That is another way that such silly examples of desert and entre sampling and beer tasting are very lame.

At my local Flying Saucer, they have real runoffs for beer tasting. They determine a winner like you do with sports teams - head to head contests between two beers, with the winner advancing to the next round. Finally you have two beers going head to head (no pun intended) to get a winner. Having to drink several beers and rank them makes no sense. Will your order of ranking be effected by the order in which you taste the beers - will it change if you go from dark to lite (or strong to weak) vs going the other way?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

IRV on the ballot AGAIN - and on the RUN - in Aspen!

Months after FairVote's Rob Ritchie and other IRV advocates crowed about how well IRV worked in various elections, IRV is on the run in Aspen. Let this be a lesson to all those other communities that are thinking about IRV/RCV - it's not easy for voters to understand, cheap, simple to administer.

Quite simply - it doesn't increase the public confidence in the election process.

Aspen voters to vote on how they vote — again

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen Times
ASPEN — Aspen voters will be asked this November if they liked the way they voted this past May for mayor and City Council members, which involved Instant Runoff Voting — or if there should be a different kind of election all together.

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday agreed to put an advisory question to voters on the fall ballot on whether the IRV election method — a system never tried before in Aspen until this past May — should be scrapped or kept in place.

If the majority of voters want to do away with IRV, the council will have to explore alternatives, which could include going back to the previous method of the mayor getting 50 percent plus one of the vote, and council members getting 45 percent plus one of the vote. If candidates don't reach that threshold, a runoff election would be held in June as it's been done in the past. Another option could be winner take all, with no majority needed, which was done many years ago in Aspen municipal elections.

Some council members said they didn't have enough confidence in, or an understanding of, the IRV process. As a result, it has opened the city up for liability and voter confusion.

While listening to the nuances of the complex IRV system and the problems associated with tabulating votes, Councilman Steve Skadron questioned whether he understood the process well enough to make an informed decision on choosing the best tabulation method. And if he didn't understand, did the voters? he asked rhetorically.

“This is a level of detail here that I am not connecting,” Skadron said, adding that because different IRV tabulation methods can produce different outcomes, there is a level of subjectivity in analyzing the results. “I'm not confident in this system.”

That's despite City Clerk Kathryn Koch and the city's special counsel, Jim True, telling the council that the IRV method used this past May worked exactly as it was designed to, and closely mimicked the runoff system that voters had been accustomed to. Koch and True, who spent hundreds of hours researching and devising Aspen's system, recommended IRV be used in the 2011 municipal election.

However, True said public education could be improved upon because many voters didn't know how to rank their candidates, or didn't rank all of them, thus reducing their chances to participate in an instant runoff.

“A lot of lessons were learned on those types of issues,” True told the council. “They will only be improved upon.”

Other council members said they think a runoff election with fewer candidates in June after the May vote gives voters a chance to learn more about their choices and the issues confronting the city.

“I've been anti-IRV for a long time,” said Councilman Torre. “The extra month of campaigning gives the voter a chance to figure out the make-up and representation on the board.”

Councilman Dwayne Romero agreed, saying the day after the May 5 election, he had an empty feeling because the results were final and there wasn't enough discourse among candidates to fully understand them or their positions. Another month of campaigning would have satisfied that, he added.

“A lot of people have come up to me and said they also missed out on that discourse,” Romero said.

The majority of Aspen residents in November 2007 voted to adopt the IRV election method in an effort to save time, money and energy that comes with a second election a month after the municipal vote was counted.

Aspen resident Don Davidson said he doesn't think IRV worked as it was intended to, nor did he have a chance to fully grasp candidates' positions.

“A lot of people, including myself, didn't understand the intricacies of IRV when we were voting for it,” he said. “And I wasn't able to get enough information on the candidates ... I viewed the [May election] as a primary and [another month] to have the issues discussed more in-depth.”

After a specific IRV method — the first of its kind in the United States because it incorporated multiple candidates for multiple seats — was chosen by an election committee made up of city staff and citizens, the council adopted it.

But IRV critics and City Hall observers decried the process in which IRV was administered and the lack of a full-blown audit of the results.

Election commissioner Elizabeth Milias said the election commission that oversaw the IRV process, which included local attorney Chris Bryan, didn't certify the May 5 results because they didn't have confidence in the security and stewardship of the ballots, as well as the auditing and testing of the tabulation system.

“It was squirrely at best,” Milias said.

Their questions and criticisms have raised enough doubt among some council members that they want voters to decide whether IRV should continue as the official election method in Aspen.

“I think the voters should have a crack at voting on this again,” said Mayor Mick Ireland.

True and Koch will craft draft ballot language and bring it back to the council for consideration. The deadline to place a measure on the November ballot is Aug. 24.

If the majority of Aspen residents decide to do away with IRV, the council will have to choose an alternate election system and present that to voters, which would require a change to the city charter. That could occur in the November 2010 election.

Torre and Ireland voiced support for moving the municipal election to June, when more residents are back in town from their offseason excursions. That also would require a public vote. Ireland noted that the mayor's seat should be a four-year term instead of two, which also could be put to voters in the future.

Why not change the charter to have municipal elections occur during June with runoffs in July? It seems that more people are in Aspen during that time of the year? Or take place in November with December runoffs?

It seems like the cure to low voter turnout is to hold elections when more people want to vote or usually vote.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

IRV advocates are a bunch of bitchy little girls!

I guess if Rob Richie can compare IRV to American Idol, I can compare IRV advocates to "Burn Notice".

"Burn Notice", airing on the USA Network, stars Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell has been one of my favorite actors since playing Ashley J. "Ash" Williams in the cult classic "Army of Darkness". On "Burn Notice", Campbell portrays Sam Axe, a former Navy SEAL now working as an unlicensed private investigator and sometime mercenary with his old friend Michael Westen, the show's main character.

You can see what a charming character Sam is in the opening intro to the show on USA (can't find a clip on youtube or USA for it). Sam is drinking a beer and complaining about spies: "You know spies. Bunch of bitchy little girls" Which could also describe how some IRV advocates have been acting lately, based on their latest posts.

When Brad Freidman wrote last month that Instant Runoff Voting was a virus attacking Los Angeles, I blogged that this was probably, in the words of Churchill, the "end of the beginning" for IRV. And rightly so. Already IRV is under assault in the very places that FairVote has been citing as shining examples of where IRV is in use and works - even if they haven't fully used IRV to both cast AND count votes.

Cary NC is not going to use IRV in their 2009 election. Fayetteville NC is also not going to use IRV this year. And there is a good chance that Hendersonville NC voters won't even need to rank choices this year - so no IRV there either. They would be like Takoma Park - where there either aren't enough choices on the ballot to rank, or they get a majority winner in the first round and don't need to use the complicated and confusing counting method.

There is movement in the communities of Aspen CO, Burlington VT and Pierce County WA to get rid of IRV. And now word is coming that San Francisco is thinking about getting rid of IRV. A different version of IRV called Single Transferable Voting was soundly rejected by voters in a British Columbia referendum.

IRV advocates are not happy about this. From what I am seeing, resources are being re-routed all around the country to do two things:

  • to fight to keep IRV in places where it has been used and failed; and
  • to add more places that will use IRV by pointing to alleged successes where it has been used in the past.

I have it on good authority that FairVoteNC has no more paid staff - it's an all volunteer outfit now!

This presents big problems for IRV advocates like Rob Richie of FairVote. They are trying to sell IRV in Los Angeles - which would be the biggest jurisdiction to use IRV. But IRV presents big problems in a place like Los Angeles with a million voters or more. They use inkavote machines that have many problems with them, so LA would most likely have to buy new voting machines. Problem is, there is no federally certified voting systems that do IRV.

LA could go with the same Sequoia machines they use in San Francisco, but that presents problems because those machines probably won't be around much longer under the new Holt paper ballot bill recently introduced in Congress. So buying Sequoia machines now would be a big waste of money that LA can't afford to waste just to do IRV.

Frisco has a couple of official languages they print up ballots for - LA has somewhere around 8 or 10, and lots of literacy issues. From talking with election officials in LA, they really don't want to spend the money on IRV all the time when they might not have a runoff in every office. LA City has their city primary in March, and their general election in May - when there are other county wide elections in November. They could save a lot of money and increase turnout merely by syncing their city elections with the rest of the county and do without IRV.

So IRV advocates like Rob Richie and others are out there doing damage control. But what they write and how they write it makes them sound - in the words of Sam Axe - like a bunch of bitchy little girls.

Rob Richie's latest "huff piece" in the Huffington Post claims that all IRV opponents are special interests that are opposed to electoral reform. This of course implies that all IRV advocates are shining knights on white chargers of electoral reform opposing the black knights of special interest, and that IRV opponents can only win by "cheating" (coming up with loads of special interest money for runoff elections if needed). Of course, Richie's "huff pieces" on IRV don't allow for anyone to comment one way or the other. Perhaps because he doesn't want anyone who reads his stuff to see there is another side to the issue?

Of course Rob has to take the relative high road by calling us "special interests" - he leaves the petty name-calling to others. We are not "special interest" - we are verified voting advocates who work hard to protect election integrity. At "the end of the beginning", all that hard work is starting to pay off by getting more and more people to see how IRV threatens election integrity. And it's starting to get to IRV supporters a little further down the totem pole from Rob Richie. They are calling us "haters", as if to imply that we hate IRV and all other election reforms.

That is not true. I am not a tool of the special interests and I don't "hate" IRV. I am verified voting advocate who "loves" election simple, transparent voting who works hard to protect election integrity.

One thing you can say about verified voting advocates is that we "trust, but verify". Which is what gives IRV advocates fits. We don't automatically assume that IRV is the election reform Rob and others claim that it is, or that it does all the things he claims it does. Hell - I don't automatically trust each and everything that other verified voting activists claim either. And we do the same for Rob Richie - we try to verify the claims Rob and others make. And if we can't verify the claims time and time again, it's hard to be able to trust the people or organizations making the claims.

But IRV advocate Anthony "Doe" Lorenzo really takes the cake. This is where the "bitchy little girl" part comes in. In the electionreform yahoo group, Anthony wrote that everyone who advocates for IRV is a third-party/independent voter who work passionately for electoral reform through IRV and/or proportional representation, and that all IRV opponents in verified voting are Democrats who align themselves with special interests. He also wrote that verified voting advocates who don't like IRV "hate" IRV advocates because they are better organized than verified voting advocates. You can almost imagine himself hyperventilating himself into a hissy fit as he wrote that part.

Then he wrote about why Rob supports IRV - apparently it was because his daddy worked on a campaign for proportional representation in OH back in the early 90s that failed. Anthony claims that in this campaign, Rob and his wife had to sleep on couches in other people's houses. Apparently, these and other negative experiences so scarred Rob Richie and turned him into the "one trick pony" advocate who works IRV into every single thing he writes - including obituaries for John Gideon. Rob's carrying on his daddy's work! While that might be a wonderful story for some people, I still remember that we are in Iraq because George W. Bush wanted to finish what his daddy started in the early 90s during the first Iraq War. Sounds like "daddy issues" to me. And I thought only the women I dated in my late 20's had those problems! ;-)

So it makes me wonder is Rob Richie's passion for IRV and the whole FairyTaleVote agenda is because he really feels it's an election reform, or is it because Rob has "daddy issues" and needs to avenge his father's failure to get proportional representation in Cincinatti in 1991 (apparently it failed in 2008 also). If something isn't a real election reform, having a second generation family member doing it doesn't make it any more worthwhile. I don't hate IRV supporters. But reading these written hissy fits and being called names on line makes me pity them all the more.

It can't be easy getting your asses kicked by an all volunteer group of IRV opponents - so call us "special interests" and even "haters" and have a good cry if it makes you feel better!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Avoiding the Instant Runoff Virus in the Virginia Gubenatorial Primary

I read David Swanson's blog on the VA Gubenatorial primary over at DailyKos. He mentioned that it's essentially a three way race, and asked how to deal with that.

This dilemma could also be solved, in a way, with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Back when Deeds was trailing, Rob Richie was arguing that both McAuliffe and Moran supporters would choose Deeds as their second choice and thus give him the victory if IRV were used. But so might supporters of Deeds favor Moran as their second choice. In primaries conducted on paper and counted locally (as in a recent Charlottesville City Council Democratic primary at a single polling place that used IRV) the integrity of an election can be protected while considering second choices and ensuring majority support for a winner. But in a state-wide race, votes could only be counted at a central location if IRV were used. If you can't ensure the results by having them counted publicly where they are cast, what good is improving the method of calculation?

There is a better way that takes into consideration the weaknesses of winner-take-all. We should figure out who the best winner would be and back that candidate. Claims about viability do not in this case even enter into it. The race is a three-way tie.

I did not know that the Charlottesville firehouse primary votes were counted in the single location where cast. But David Swanson hits on a big problem with IRV - you will need central counting for anything other than an IRV race that excompasses only a single precinct polling place. He recognizes that counting votes were cast is crucial to election integrity, and that central counting is problematic.

IRV seems to be a "we can't get people really interested in the political process, so let's throw in the towel". Swanson isn't buying into that strategy. He seems to recognize that the way to elect the best candidate in the primary is to motivate people to get out and vote for the best candidate. It's about what it will take to inspire more people to get out and vote, not about figuring out who is the more viable candidate or running ENRON accounting tricks with IRV.

One other consideration, beyond who's best to win the primary, is who's most likely to win the general election if nominated. But I've heard passionate declarations that only Deeds and only Moran and only McAuliffe can win the general election. It comes down to whether you buy the conventional wisdom that the best way for Democrats to win is to steal Republican votes, or you accept the alternative view that Democrats have a better chance if they inspire more people to vote and allow the Republicans to keep their voters. Given that huge numbers of Virginians registered to vote last year precisely in order to vote for Obama for president, the inspiring-more-people approach has greater potential than usual. Can first-time voters in 2008 be persuaded to vote in a general election in 2009? What about in a primary?
Obama or DNC Chair Tom Kaine haven't done anything to build the Democratic Party so that they can take advantage of the "inspiring-more-people" approach for the 2009 primary election. The "Obama For America" groups have morphed into "Organizing For America" that is part of the DNC. So far they appear to only be trying to organize people to support specific Obama policies and not party buiding. That is a mistake, and I feel that will come back to bite them in the ass in the 2009 and 2010 elections.

But even Swanson recognizes that IRV is not the answer to what ails lower voter interest in the political process. It will take plenty of good old-fashioned hard work to get people out there to vote.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Instant Runoff Virus hides campaign cash!

Well I have to admit that I was wrong about Minneapolis doing proper due-diligence on IRV before they pushed it. Here's a story where even IRV supporters say that they made a mistake. So if there is any effect of big money in this election - we won't know about it until late October - just before voters head to the polls.

Run-off voting delays finance disclosure

Voters for Minneapolis City Council won't find out who's contributing what until November.

Last update: June 6, 2009 - 7:37 PM

Minneapolis elections are likely to unfold this year with less campaign finance disclosure than voters have seen in decades.

That's because the city's planned instant-runoff voting method doesn't use a primary election. That means candidates won't have to file the usual pre-primary report around Labor Day showing who has contributed to their campaigns.

So most election-year contributions won't be disclosed until late October, just before voters head to the polls.

"This is probably a big 'oops' for everybody who was pushing on instant-runoff voting because what you're going to lose is the information of knowing who the political contributors are," said David Schultz, who teaches government ethics and election law at Hamline University.

"That's valuable information because it tells you something about who's trying to influence the campaign, but more importantly contributors might tell you where candidates stand on the issues. You lose valuable clues or cues."

Candidates have been required to disclose their campaign contributors in Minneapolis since the early 1970s, according to Lyall Schwarzkopf, a retired city clerk. The law has required such reports be filed 10 days before the primary and general elections.

Former Council Member Tony Scallon said early reports can provide grist for campaign debates. He recalled a campaign in which he highlighted how much bar owners seeking to defeat Scallon were giving his opponent's campaign, and his opponent called attention to developer contributions to Scallon.

"I think it's important to have as early a read as possible on where the candidates are coming from, where their war chests are coming from," said Pat Scott, another former council member.

Council Member Cam Gordon, an instant-runoff supporter, called the reduced reporting "very unfortunate. It's something that I didn't anticipate." Gordon said that he already has been laying groundwork to propose more frequent reporting of campaign spending and that smaller contributions be reported.

"Having a report in September would be a great thing for voters so they can see who's donating," he said. But the council's Election Committee chair, Elizabeth Glidden, said so far she doesn't have a strong opinion about restoring a mid-election report.

Like other council members, she's expecting a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling soon on a constitutional challenge to instant-runoff voting, in which voters rank up to three candidates for a seat in the order they prefer them. The second and third choices come into play only if the leading candidate fails to reach a majority in a race for a single seat, or the required fraction of votes in multi-seat races.

Meanwhile, the city is developing backup plans to return to traditional elections in case the new method is struck down.

The opinion that without a primary no pre-primary reports are legally required came from the Hennepin County attorney's office because Minneapolis campaign reports are filed with the county. But County Attorney Mike Freeman said although that's the law, he personally thinks more disclosure would be better.

Now this is funny in a way. Because the IRV advocates tell us that IRV removes the effect of big money from campaigns. At least that is what they want us to believe. Here is yet another example of how IRV is supposed to do one thing that benefits the voters (makes big money less effective) and yet does something entirely different (hides campaign cash and makes campaign finance less transparent and more opaque).

So now there is even less information for voters to use to determine who they should vote for first, second and third - compounding the original problems with IRV.

When does IRV go from being a mere virus to become an election pandemic? Then it would be "Instant Runoff Pandemic" - nah, "Instant Runoff Virus" rolls off the tongue better.

Think Hoboken is "hot" now? The voters will be steaming if they catch the Instant Runoff Virus!

Back in the mid 80's, I used to work in NYC as a photographer's assistant. My college room-mate Victor Ongkingco introduced me to all the charming places to go eating and drinking in NJ - and we tended to end up in Hoboken at the end of the night. Parking was a pain, but I always enjoyed visiting the place and I developed quite a fondness for one bar (which is no longer there) where I had my first wheat beer.

Hoboken showed up in the news the other day, when an article in the Hudson Reporter claimed that the Hoboken City Council was going to be considering IRV. I thought they must be joking of course. IRV is hardly a "new idea" - maybe just new for Hoboken or NJ in general?

And unlike the merde that FairyTaleVote is pushing in NC - that IRV gives better pluralities - they are still pushing the story that you can keep counting IRV ballots until someone gets a majority. But at least the reporter admits that it could be confusing.

Turns out they weren't really voting to institute IRV in their town. I went to the Hoboken City Council website, and found that there was merely one of many resolutions on the agenda asking the NJ legislature to pass a bill creating an IRV study commission. The Hoboken resolution merely asked the legislature to pass the bill and expedite their study so that Hoboken could possibly rush to do IRV for their November 2009 general elections. Of course the rationale for using IRV was a slightly different variation of the usual Fairytale vote propaganda. Here is the resolution with my comments under each relevant section:


WHEREAS, Hoboken runoff elections cost the taxpayers of the City an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 every two (2) years; and

TELESCA COMMENTS: IRV advocates claim that IRV saves money if you buy the simple assumption that one election is cheaper than two. That is not true if you factor in all the costs of the more complicated IRV method: voter and candidate education, pollworker and election administrator training, documentation, and voting system upgrade or replacement. And there are no voting systems that are federally certified to handle IRV tabulations.

You can see the high cost of IRV both from governmental studies done in jurisdictions considering IRV, and from the jurisdictions already doing it.

The Maryland State Legislature considered doing IRV three times - in 2001, 2006 and 2008 - and did fiscal studies in 2006 and 2008.

Their costs for voter education alone were estimated to be $0.48 per registered voter - the cost of a 1st class stamp. Think that's enough? San Francisco has spent $1.87 per registered voter per year in the IRV elections they have done since 2004 - and a recent San Francisco civil grand jury report indicates that might not be enough, because voters still don't know enough about IRV after 4 IRV elections.

That's just the cost of voter education. The same MD fiscal studies estimated that it would cost an additional $3.50 per registered voter to implement IRV in 2006 when they were using paperless DRE touchscreen voting machines. In 2008, they estimated it would cost an additional $3.08 per registered voter if they switched over to using op-scan paper ballots. But the 2008 study didn't include the cost of federally certified IRV voting machines and software that didn’t exist then and still does not exist!

Actual costs of implementation in places that have used it is even scarier! Pierce County, WA used IRV in 2008. It cost them $2 million to implement an uncertified system for 375,589 votes - or $5.33 per registered voter! That is on top of the regular costs of their election system. And in two of the three races that used IRV to decided the "winner", the "winner" didn't get a majority of the first column votes cast! Now 2 out of 3 voters in Pierce County want to ditch IRV after their first election!

WHEREAS, multiple elections annually foster the disenfranchisement of voters, reducing voter turnout and public confidence in the process; and

TELESCA COMMENTS: I don’t know of any formal studies that show traditional elections and runoffs reduce voter turnout and public confidence in elections.

As a precinct chair and an officer in my county’s Get Out The Vote program, I do know that voter turnout in runoff elections can be lower than for the initial election. But that could be due to many factors including lower voter interest, weather, burnout, or just not liking any of the other candidates.

San Francisco first used IRV in 2004. They have used IRV in every subsequent election since then. From 2004 to 2007, voter turnout has dropped along with the number of registered voters, so IRV does not increase voter turnout. And the percentage of people who showed up at the polls who didn’t know they were supposed to rank their choices increased from roughly 33% in 2004 to almost 50% in 2005.

One problem with IRV is that it very rarely ensures an authentic majority winner in a single election. In the majority of elections where there is no winner in the first column and IRV is used to tabulate votes in subsequent columns, the winner rarely wins by a majority of number of 1st column ballots. A winner is manufactured using IRV vote tabulation methods that seem more like ENRON accounting methods.

There is a movement across the country not to trust the results of “black box” elections. IRV is such a complex tabulation method that few people understand it – including election administrators. If trained election administrators don’t understand it, what chance does the average voter have of understanding and trusting it? Many verified voting and election integrity advocates feel IRV is a step backwards, not forwards.

WHEREAS, the Council is committed to the democratic process and wishes to encourage voter participation while simultaneously reducing the cost to the taxpayers; and

TELESCA COMMENTS: There is always going to be a trade-off between voter participation and election costs. You could cut costs by having one place in a municipality to cast your vote in person in order to reduce costs, but you would end up disenfranchising voters who live further from the location. Perhaps you really can't do both. Maybe try finding a savings someplace else?

WHEREAS, Instant Runoff Voting has proven to be successful nationwide, in such diverse places as Aspen, Colorado, San Francisco, California, and the States of Louisiana and South Carolina;

TELESCA COMMENTS: This clause is somewhat misleading. IRV has been used in Aspen and San Francisco, but it could hardly be called successful. They voted to use IRV in elections without knowing how they would implement it. As such, they were forced to use the method under threat of lawsuits from IRV advocacy organizations like FairVote.

Costs have gone up, and election transparency has done down. Aspen had to hire an outside consulting company to run their complicated IRV elections – which cost more than holding a regular runoff election. And there are almost daily reports coming from Aspen about election irregularities – and this is from an election that took place in early May. It was not certified by the Aspen Election Commission because they wouldn’t sign off on a method they didn’t understand.

South Carolina and Louisiana passed laws to allow for the use of IRV for overseas absentee by mail voters, but they do not use IRV for any other elections.

North Carolina passed a law creating an IRV pilot program for 2007-2008, and extending it from 2009 to 2011 (inclusive). Even after a full-court press by the State Board of Elections and many IRV advocacy groups like FairVote, they could only get two communities to use IRV in 2007 – Hendersonville and Cary.

Even before Cary voted in May 2007 to pilot IRV, the State Board knew it was too risky to use in 2008 elections because state law and federal regulations require using only certified voting systems to tabulate IRV.

Only one NC community – Cary - needed IRV to tabulate votes beyond the first column. Due to my work in verified voting, I was appointed an official observer to the IRV pilot by the Chair of the Wake County Democratic Party. IRV did not do well in Cary.

The 2007 Cary IRV pilot program was largely managed by IRV advocacy groups, with no advance guidelines. Some voter education volunteers admit deviating from Election Board instructions to create a more positive outcome on the exit poll surveys — also conducted by IRV advocates.

The Wake Board of Elections couldn’t follow simple IRV hand tabulation procedures. Ballots were mis-sorted, simple calculator mistakes were made and a non-public recount turned up missing votes. The winner did not receive the 50 percent plus one vote majority advocates claimed IRV would ensure in a single election. He got 1401 out of 3022 first-column votes.

There has been no analysis of the 2007 pilot. The proffered reason given for extending the pilot beyond 2008 was cost savings, even though fiscal studies done by other jurisdictions show IRV elections cost more than traditional election methods.

The original IRV pilot extension bill had the same flaws as the first pilot program. Election integrity groups requested an improvement which required “… the pilot program shall be conducted according to … standards consistent with general election law …” Unfortunately, this legislative requirement has not been met.

After passage of the pilot, election integrity advocates (including myself) pointed out how IRV conflicts with general election law not written with IRV in mind, and recommended ways to make IRV comply with general election law. The State Board ignored those recommendations and approved IRV guidelines that conflict with general election laws.

North Carolina and other states have laws requiring that votes be counted where cast until the count is completed to prevent ballot tampering. But State Board IRV guidelines call for partial ballot counting at polling places, then moving the ballots to a central location for further counting. The federal Help America Vote Act requires voters be notified of over-votes before a ballot is cast. Our voting system can’t notify voters of second and third column over-votes on IRV ballots.

From early 2007 through January 2009, State Board members and staff claimed we needed federally certified software to automate IRV tabulations. The State Board recently developed automated procedures they now claim need no federal certification. Those procedures were developed with no input from election equipment vendor ES&S. We still do not know if the new IRV procedures violate any contracts, warranties or other agreements with ES&S? Will NC voters be required to foot the bill in the event of election problems?

Very few NC communities considered taking part in the 2009 IRV pilot. Cary – the only NC municipality that used IRV to tabulate an election winner in 2007 – voted not to participate in the 2009 IRV pilot. The consensus of the Town Council was that IRV didn’t work as advertised in 2007, and they didn’t want to be an election lab rat again. Don Frantz – the most vocal opponent for IRV on the Cary Town Council – was the elected with the method. He didn’t like it in 2007 and he doesn’t like it now. Councilperson Julie Robison – who voted to participate in the IRV pilot in 2007 – doesn’t support the IRV election method because she doesn’t trust the tabulation procedures. On April 30, 2009 – Cary voted to stick with traditional majority non-partisan majority elections with runoffs if needed because they are more transparent than IRV.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Council of the City of Hoboken, County of Hudson, State of New Jersey, that it fully supports Senate Joint Resolution No. 43, sponsored by Senator Bill Baroni of District 14, creating a commission to study instant runoff voting and the implications of IRV within the State of New Jersey and to encourage the commission to act promptly so that the City can introduce a referendum for voter consideration establishing IRV during the next general election on November 3, 2009.

TELESCA COMMENTS: It appears according to SJR 41 that they will actually study IRV - something that was not done in North Carolina before the pilot passed in 2006. If they don't rush the study, they will find out more information about IRV than they ever wanted to know – including all the extra costs and perhaps even the many ways that IRV conflicts with existing elections laws in NJ. It will take a while – possibly years – to resolve just the conflicts in their election laws if they decide to use it.

Based on the experience of other jurisdictions that are using IRV, NJ should not rush into using the method until they can take the time to weigh all the evidence. Or heaven forbid, be required to use it and then realize just how problematic it will be.

From the way the resolution is written, Hoboken wants to rush the actions of the state IRV Study Commission so they can have a special referendum on IRV sometime this summer enabling them to use IRV during their November 2009 general election? That is not a good idea.

Does it make sense to go to the trouble and expense of holding a low-turnout special referendum on IRV just to use IRV in November and supposedly save money not having to hold a runoff election? That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Furthermore, the turnout in special elections for IRV tend to have even less turnout – and therefore are less democratic – than even the runoff elections they are using to replace. That is what happened in Aspen, CO.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a certified copy of this resolution be transmitted by the City Clerk to Senator Baroni and our 33rd Legislative District Representatives.
Meeting Date: June 3, 2009

A friend of mine attended this meeting and told me that - unfortunately - the resolution passed: 6 voting yes, 2 voting no and 1 abstention. There was no discussion of how IRV might effect election integrity. But that is to be expected. Cost cutting at all levels of government tends to be the biggest concern on elected leader's minds these days.

But I am really sure that this IRV study bill will go anywhere. Doesn't their legislature have a research staff that can study this issue for them and make a report? Or is this gonna turn into a Rob Richie "dog and pony" show (or is it "chili cook offs" and "ice cream socials") where FairyTaleVote will control the agenda for the meeting?

Rest assured that election integrity and verified voting activists will be paying attention to what goes on in the Garden State. My aunt lives in NE Philly not too far from Trenton, and I got plenty of places to stay near Hoboken - from a futon in Tribeca to a very nice couch in Belleville.

NJ residents are practical and pragmatic. If they can joke about being able to see the air they breathe, they will want to see an actual majority they are being promised. There is a good chance they won't buy into the hype once they find out how bad the Instant Runoff Virus really is!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Instant Runoff Virus errors found in Aspen vote totals

They incorrectly used Cambridge voting rules and software in Aspen. This is one of the main reasons why you can't successfully pull off voting on the cheap with IRV using uncertified software without making sure that all the rules are followed.

It took two weeks to detect these problems. But what about the fact that TrueBallot was allowed to use the wrong software for the job? How come no one in Aspen made sure the correct software was being used before hand?

They only had 2544 ballots to recount. If this happened in a larger county with over 60 times the number of ballots - like Wake County with over 150K ballots in the May 2008 primary election - it would have taken 60 times two weeks - or 120 weeks - or 2.5 years to do the same sort of audit.

But it is interesting that here in Wake County, they did the IRV "audit" which amounted to a non-public recounting of approximately 3000 ballots in one day.

That is why IRV is too complex to be practical for use in all but the smallest elections, where you can either spend two weeks trying to make things appear as though they worked out, or you can just do it in your locked office.

But even the smallest local races deserve just as much election integrity as larger races. Even more so, because our local races are the ones where we have the most potential to interact with our elected leaders. Yet these are precisely the elections most vulnerable to the "Instant Runoff Virus".
What about the Council races - including the one where they had two candidates left and no one crossed the threshold? Where did they pull the votes for the winning candidate from?

Chris Telesca

Last-minute note - Just got this from Marilyn Marks:

the “recount” was not an official recount, and it is uncertain as to whether it will be certified. Seems like a political stunt for the mayor.

But it was not a hand count. Done with the True Ballot digital data and software.

The data was not found (?) or disclosed until after the period for recount had expired.

So, more votes would not necessarily have made for a longer counting process.

Interesting that they went to the trouble to just sort through the data and software only after the period for the recount had expired. Had the race not been certified, someone could have challenged the results of the race and demanded a fill hand-to-eye recount of all the ballots.

That would have been fun - because unless you can set up a hand-sort that can do an accurate sort and the results can agree - you don't have a way to really audit the race.

Ireland wins Aspen mayoral race again
Error found in instant runoff tally, giving opponent Marks 16 fewer votes
Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado,
ASPEN — Due to a computer software error, it turns out Mick Ireland won the Aspen mayoral seat on May 5 by a larger margin than originally reported.

City staff recently learned of the error in the tabulation of the final-round vote totals for mayor. However, the error had no effect on the outcome of the race, according to city officials.

Instead of Ireland defeating opponent Marilyn Marks by a vote of 1,273 to 1,140 (52.8 percent to 47.2 percent) as earlier reported, he actually won by a margin of 1,301 to 1,124 (53.6 percent to 46.4 percent).

In the mayor’s race, the threshold necessary to be sure of a victory was 1,273, which is 50 percent plus one of the 2,544 ballots cast. When Ireland reached 1,273 after LJ Erspamer was eliminated in the final round of counting, he was guaranteed to win.

The software stopped counting any additional votes for him. However, any ballots ranking Marks after Ireland were added to her final round totals.

Ireland ultimately received 28 votes beyond the threshold of 1,273. Sixteen of them had been counted for Marks, and 12 had been deemed “exhausted” because they did not rank Marks.

“City staff has been working to audit the instant runoff process, and the tabulation error was recently discovered by TrueBallot, the company hired by the city to perform the election,” said City Clerk Kathryn Koch. “The error arose because the voting software was originally written to support the ‘ranked choice’ form of elections used in Cambridge, Mass. Following Cambridge rules, the software prevented a candidate who had reached the winning threshold from receiving any more votes.”

Vote totals in all other rounds of the mayor’s instant runoff voting tally and in all rounds of the two council tallies were unchanged. The error did not occur in either of the council tallies.

“The fact that this error was detectable using election data we made available to the public validates our approach to election transparency and integrity,” Koch said.

Two days after the election, city officials and members of the public conducted an audit that involved randomly selecting 10 percent of the ballots and double-checking that the rankings corresponded to the electronic records.

The second step was to manually verify that every ranking was tallied correctly for mayor and council, which was conducted by TrueBallot.

Marks, who has been a critic of instant runoff voting well before it was implemented, said she thinks the testing of the system was inadequate leading up to the election.

“I am thrilled that there is some post-election auditing going on,” she said. “This demonstrated that it needed to be done.

“I hope that the results they’ve found will encourage them to do further work and tests.”

TrueBallot did the manual verification as part of their standard post-election services.

“We were able to audit and document this election more completely than any other public election that we have held,” Koch said, adding members of the public can view the data files that rank the candidates, as well as other election data public like TrueBallot’s 72-page spreadsheet that provides analysis of the results.

The election results are summarized on the city’s website at

The Aspen City Council has committed to reviewing instant runoff voting and its procedures at a public meeting to be scheduled sometime this summer.

Koch said she decided to make the error public by distributing a press release since the election data is available for public review. She added that to her knowledge, there are no other discrepancies with the instant runoff voting system or the election results.

“I’m confident we got the most correct answer,” she said.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Minneapolis gets ready to return to primary elections in case they lose their IRV suit!

Minneapolis is one of those places that IRV advocates point to as a place where IRV was chosen by voters in landslide referendum wins.

But it's not popular with everyone. A local election group took the city to court challenging the constitutionality of IRV. IRV advocates are confident they will win in court. But not everyone is so confident. So Minneapolis is getting ready to let them do runoff elections in case they lose in court.
Return of primary requested, just in case

The City Council unanimously approved a measure that puts the city on track to make a September primary election possible, just in case Minneapolis needs one.

Currently, there’s expected to be no primary. That’s because this year’s municipal election is set to use ranked-choice, or instant-runoff, voting.

RCV lets voters rank their top three candidates in each race. In single-seat elections, any candidate wins by getting 50 percent of the votes plus one right off the bat; if no one reaches that threshold, second- and third-choice votes could get weighed. The process eliminates the need for
a primary.

While voters approved RCV for use in this year’s election back in 2006, a lawsuit has thrown a potential wrench in the city’s plans. The Minnesota Voters Alliance, a citizens’ group, is questioning RCV’s constitutionality, arguing the system doesn’t equate to one person, one vote.

The case has traveled to the state Supreme Court, where arguments will be heard May 13. A ruling is expected in early June, according to city documents.

It’s important for the city to get as quick an answer as possible — if the court ruled against RCV, the city would need to bring back a primary, something that’s easier said than done. Currently there is no language in the city’s charter directing how to hold a primary that Minneapolis voters are used to; that was eliminated along with the 2006 approval of RCV.

That’s why the City Council is requesting to re-amend the charter. In other words, were the Supreme Court to deliver an unfavorable ruling, Minneapolis would be prepared.

On June 9, the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee also will weigh whether it should be able to reinstate a primary for another reason: if RCV turns out to be just plain too difficult.

Minneapolis is set to make history by being the first municipality in the world to hand-count a ranked-choice multiple-seat election, elections Director Cynthia Reichert has said. That process was tested May 6-7 by elections staff. An official report has yet to be given on the experience, but Council Member Paul Ostrow (4th Ward) has some concerns.

“What I’ve heard is that hand-counting of the at-large seats is extraordinarily challenging,” he said.

But other council members already have said they don’t feel comfortable making that a reason to altogether abandon the new system. Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said he would only support a primary if RCV were found to be unconstitutional.

Extraordinarily challenging? You ain't seen nothing yet - they say it could take weeks to count!

We figured out here in NC that if we had one statewide race that went to IRV in our 2008 May primary, it would have taken 7 weeks to count. And that counting could only start AFTER the State Board of Elections certified who came in second out of 4 candidates - since NC did top-two IRV in the 2007 election pilot.

In other words, they'd still be hand tabulating IRV ballots well after the late June primary runoff election already gave the results the night of the election. Some savings of time there!

The end of the beginning: Bradblog calls IRV an "election virus"!

Joyce McCloy just called me up and asked me if I was sitting down and had some beer handy. I said I was outside finishing up the last bit of painting I have to do before getting my new roof installed.

She told me something BIG had happened - and she was right! Brad Friedman, who blogs at, just published a piece on IRV. And it was devastating!

Blogged by Brad Friedman on 6/2/2009 1:38PM

Joins 'Internet Voting' and 'Vote-by-Mail' schemes as the latest bad ideas poised to further cripple American democracy

PLUS: IRV count fails in Aspen's first instant runoff election...

Gautum Dutta, of the Democratic-leaning Asian American Action Fund blog notes a recent L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting which "discussed a study on the cost of special elections and Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)" [emphasis added]...

While speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Registrar Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan testified how low voter turnout and high costs have plagued our special elections. Logan urged the County to seriously consider anything that would reduce voter fatigue and save money.

In the past two years alone, $9.3 million of taxpayer dollars have been spent on special elections. Of that amount, over $3.6 million dollars were spent on special runoff elections (counting the upcoming July 14 runoff in CA’s 32nd Congressional District).

If IRV had been used instead of special runoff elections, taxpayers could have saved up to $3.6 million.

Note to Messrs. Dutta and Logan: Taxpayers could save even more money if we simply allow you two to just decide for us who gets elected!

As Logan, chief election official of the nation's largest voting jurisdiction (larger than 43 states combined) has had more than enough problems with the current voting system which can't even add one plus one plus one accurately, such that it is virtually impossible for anybody to verify the accuracy of results, the last thing this county needs is to complicate the math even further by confusing matters with IRV's complicate scheme of ranked choice voting where voters are asked to select a first and second place choices, etc.

For that matter, unless, and until, we can simplify our election procedures such that any and all citizens are able to oversee and verify the accuracy of their election results, no jurisdiction in this country should employ schemes like IRV, no matter how well-meaning supporters of it may be in hoping to allow a broader range of candidates and parties to have a shot at winning an election.

Along with the emerging nightmares of Internet Voting and Vote-by-Mail, IRV is yet another one of the horrible wack-a-mole schemes being endlessly advanced by advocates and profiteers who put winning elections and making money off them, over the idea of transparent, verifiable, secure democracy and self-governance expressed of the people, by the people and for the people.

Addendum... From last Friday's Aspen Daily News:

More than three weeks after Aspen’s first-ever instant-runoff election, city officials announced an error in the tabulation of the final-round vote totals for mayor. ... The error did not surface in either of the council tallies or in any other rounds of the mayoral instant runoff voting tally, officials said. ... Accuracy tests were publicly conducted before the election but they did not catch the problem that ultimately occurred.

I feel good about this latest development. We have IRV on the run in NC. Only two communities wanted to pilot IRV in NC in 2007. None in 2008 (but our State Board of Elections knew IRV wouldn't be used in 2008) and only one community voted to pilot IRV. The only NC community that used IRV to tabulate votes for a winner beyond the 1st column turned it down flat and voted to continue using traditional non-partisan majority elections with runoff if needed. Next year there will be a big Senate election in NC and I know the SBOE won't want to risk using IRV in violation of state election law and federal regulation during a big federal election. So IRV is on the way out in NC.

And thanks to verified voting bloggers, we've kept people aware of the problems with IRV, and shown how it's a danger to election integrity. And we've done it in the face of people who call us all sorts of names (liar comes to mind - I'm still waiting for my appology Elena!), and been called a "Republican" by the Democratic Chair of my county Board of Elections (I am a die-hard Dem who is an officer in my county's Progressive Democrats club). At times it's felt like Joyce and I (and a few others) have been going it alone.

But we are seeing people wake up to the dangers IRV poses to election integrity and to democracy itself. in places like Aspen, Burlington, Pierce County even while Rob Richie and Co. (aka FairyTaleVote) crow about how well IRV elections work. Now that a visible progressive like Brad has called IRV an election "virus", I feel I am not standing alone against the really bad idea that is IRV.

But I was stuck by the symbolism of this posting today - and finding out about it at the same time as I finished painting the last of the roof trim prior to getting the roofers over. Just like my home-improvement work, I saw this posting by Brad in the words of Sir Winston Churchill:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What happened to ncvotes123 sites?

FairVote and other pro-IRV groups used to host a site that either went by or ncvotes123org.

When you go to, you get directed to the following site:

The page cannot be found

The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

Please try the following:

  • Make sure that the Web site address displayed in the address bar of your browser is spelled and formatted correctly.
  • If you reached this page by clicking a link, contact the Web site administrator to alert them that the link is incorrectly formatted.
  • Click the Back button to try another link.

HTTP Error 404 - File or directory not found.
Internet Information Services (IIS)

Technical Information (for support personnel)

  • Go to Microsoft Product Support Services and perform a title search for the words HTTP and 404.
  • Open IIS Help, which is accessible in IIS Manager (inetmgr), and search for topics titled Web Site Setup, Common Administrative Tasks, and About Custom Error Messages.
If you go to, you get redirected to this site:

This site is currently unavailable.

If you are the owner of this site, please contact us at 1-480-505-8855 at your earliest convenience.

Does this mean that FairVote and other IRV advocates have thrown in the towel? I hope so - I have some home-improvement work to get caught up on.

But I somehow doubt it - eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!

IRV does no better than plurality or traditional elections and runoffs in Aspen

It is interesting to see how IRV advocates are touting any community - no matter the size or the results of the election - that uses IRV as a success for the complex and confusing method. I made some comments in an article on IRV coming under fire in the Aspen Times, and some IRV advocate who has drunk the FairyTaleVote kool-aid responded that IRV worked well in Aspen. He told me to look up the history of IRV elections and see why IRV was needed.

Well I did look up IRV, but I saw that IRV was not needed. Why? Because I saw from an analysis of Aspen elections by a writer from the Aspen Times, and it pretty much confirmed what I already know about IRV - that it isn't a more democratic election method.

Aspen voters have used plurality elections, majority elections with runoffs, and now IRV. But as history has shown, the leader in the May general election won in the June runoff. In the recent IRV election, the leader in the first round wins the eventual runoff. In IRV, the first round lead is rarely overcome by other trailing candidates.

So majority elections with runoffs and IRV all deliver wins to the person who has the plurality lead in the first election or round, why use IRV?

Some say that IRV saves money over a traditional election and runoff. That is only true if you accept the rather simplistic argument that one election is cheaper than two and don't honestly and accurately account for all the costs of doing an IRV election - including the cost of election integrity.

Are runoff results predetermined?

Leader in first go-round consistently wins the runoff

By Carolyn Sackariason – The Aspen Times
May 10, 2007

ASPEN — If history does repeat itself, then the results of the upcoming city runoff election are already a done deal.

Since Aspen instituted runoffs in 2001, the majority of voters have selected the same candidates in both elections.

"The runoff positions have not changed the May positions," said City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

There have been three runoff city elections in the past eight years, all of which have generated the same outcomes of the prior votes. In 2001, Helen Klanderud got 850 votes in the mayoral election, and Rachel Richards received 658. In the runoff, Klanderud won.

In May 2003, Torre got 566 votes in the race for City Council, and Tony Hershey received 542. Torre won the runoff. In May 2005, Jack Johnson received 823 votes for council, and Dee Malone got 671 votes. Johnson won in the runoff.

Where it began

The impetus for runoffs was born out of the 1999 mayoral race between Richards and Klanderud - with Richards winning by 14 votes. Some felt it wasn't a clear enough mandate, so City Council posed a charter amendment to the voters in the fall of 2000. Voters approved runoff elections by a margin of 3-to-1, Koch said.

Before the charter amendment, whoever had the most votes won. It was a called a "plurality" election. The runoff system is part of a "majority" election in which a mayoral candidate must win with 50 percent of the vote, plus one, and City Council candidates must win by 45 percent, plus one vote.

Koch estimates that the runoff elections have cost taxpayers more than $21,000. "That doesn't include man-hours," she added.

What's more, history has shown that fewer people make it to the polls in runoff elections. In May 2001, 2,003 people voted; in the June runoff, it was 1,810. In May 2003, 1,903 people voted; in June, 1,566 cast ballots. May 2005 drew 2,318 voters, and the next month attracted 986.

'It helps'

Toni Kronberg is the only current candidate who supports runoff elections - she benefited from the majority election Tuesday. She inched into the runoff by placing third with 487 votes. She'll go up against Steve Skadron, who placed second with 862 votes. Dwayne Romero won a City Council seat outright by placing first with 1,126 votes.

"It helps because it ensures that the person gets the majority," Kronberg said, adding that it's difficult for voters to differentiate among candidates, especially in a field of eight like in Tuesday's election.

Kronberg said that because of the runoff, she has a second opportunity to reach more voters with her message. In order for Kronberg to win, she'll have to get most of the 800 votes that went to other candidates.

"Is it a daunting task? I don't think it is," she said. "It's doable."

The other three candidates all support some sort of election reform that would either do away with runoff elections altogether or implement an instant voting system, where voters would note their second and third choices on the ballot.

"This whole runoff thing, I don't see how the community benefits waiting a whole month," Skadron said, adding he only needed 28 votes to win on Tuesday. "My total was almost double [Kronberg's]."

Mayoral candidates Mick Ireland and Tim Semrau will face off June 5 as well. Ireland, who garnered 1,036 votes, needed 57 more votes to beat Semrau, who brought in 747. Ireland favors moving the municipal election to a time when more people are in town, particularly because the economy has shifted in town, and summer attracts high numbers of residents.

"Instant voting is worth looking at and so is having the election at the end of June," Ireland said.

Problems and solutions

Many candidates have complained over the years that low voter turnout hurt their chances because the elections take place in the height of offseason, when people leave town for extended vacations.

A citizen initiative posed a ballot question in 1989 asking to move the municipal election to the general election in November. It passed, 1,041 to 932. But then a little more than a year later, another citizen initiative prompted a special election in July 1990 asking to repeal the earlier vote. It was approved, 342-175, moving the municipal election back to May. City residents never had a chance to vote on municipal matters in November, another offseason month when fewer people are in town.

Councilman Johnson in July 2006 convinced his colleagues to pursue possible changes to the election system, which ultimately would require voter approval. Koch did some initial research on instant voting, finally determining that it would be nearly impossible with multiple candidates vying for more than one seat up for election on a single ballot, as is the case in the council race. As a result, the effort lost momentum.

State Rep. John Kefalas, D-Larimer, introduced a bill to the state Legislature earlier this year that would create a study group to investigate this summer "advanced voting methods," which includes instant voting and other processes that would allow voters to express preferences on multiple candidates. Lawmakers rejected a proposed pilot project, but the study group is still pursuing the endeavor, said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a Denver-based nonprofit that supports instant voting.

Flanagan recognizes that there are challenges to instant voting, similar to what Koch has pointed out, but she said she is confident solutions can be found.

Common Cause believes instant voting elects public officials with higher voter turnout and encourages candidates to run campaigns that are less negative.

"Instant runoffs would save municipalities a lot of money, as well as the candidates," she said. "We're hopeful more municipalities pursue advanced voting methods."
But while IRV advocates like to claim that runoffs result in lower turnout, it is interesting to note that more people turned out in the June 2005 runoff (986) than voted in the November 2007 election (837) where IRV passed. And interestingly enough, the IRV vote took place at another time where fewer people are around in Aspen than in the summer months.

Just because someone declares a voting method to be "advanced", it doesn't mean that it is better all around. This article referred to the difficulty voters would have with a slate of 8 candidates. Do you really think that voters ANYWHERE can possibly know enough about all the candidates on a slate to rank them in a meaningful way? That is why Robert's Rules of Order does not recommend IRV (referred to as "Preferential Voting") over traditional elections except for reasons like voting by mail.

Aspen voters went from plurality to a majority election with runoff because they felt that plurality didn't deliver a clear enough mandate. Then they wanted to explore other options (like IRV) because they objected to the higher cost of holding traditional runoff elections with lower turnout. They also considered moving their general election from May to June when more people would be in town. But they later rejected that move.

Interestingly enough, their study commission originally found that it would be too difficult to use IRV to select multiple candidates in an at-large election.

One wonders why Aspen didn't implement easier to understand moves like publicly-financed campaigns, or moving the elections to June, or going back to plurality elections instead of the much more complicated IRV method that their own Election Commission couldn't certify either the method before the election or the results afterwards?

The Town Council of Cary, NC (a community with over 100K registered voters - 20 times as many as Aspen) recently rejected participating in a second IRV pilot election. Cary went from plurality elections to majority general with runoff (if needed) and then decided to participate in the 2007 IRV pilot. In 2009, the Cary Town Council rejected going back to plurality because they liked the idea of majority winners. But they rejected IRV because it was too experimental and didn't deliver performance as promised (mostly that it didn't ensure a majority winner in a single election). They didn't have the complex and convoluted batch multi-member election method to deal with, otherwise I am sure that even Erv Portman would have turned thumbs down to it.

And IRV didn't really save all that much money. True Ballot was paid $7,500 to run the IRV election, while the previous three runoff elections cost $21,000 - or $7,000 per election. Even though the costs of runoff elections didn't include the man-hours, runoffs were $500 less than the cost of doing IRV.

But does the bill for IRV include the cost of election integrity and transparency? I don't think so.

Think IRV was wildly popular in Aspen? Guess again!

IRV supporters in Aspen like to claim that IRV was wildly popular - winning by a 72% margin. But 72% of how many voters? Turns out to be a pretty freaking small number.

Well, I went onto Google for a look-see, and here is what I found.

Voters approve instant runoff voting

John Colson
November 7, 2007
Aspen, CO Colorado,
ASPEN — Aspen voters decided Tuesday that they were tired of lengthy runoff campaigns and going to the polls twice for the same electoral contest.

Or, as Mayor Mick Ireland quipped when voters overwhelmingly approved instant runoff voting, "They're tired of me showing up at their door," a reference to his well-known campaigning tactic of roaming neighborhoods in search of votes.

City voters also approved the other four ballot questions, by wide margins, in an election that drew only 837 voters to the polls.

Did you see the number of people who voted in this election? Out of 5,167 registered voters in the city, they only got 837 voters showing up at the polls. Aspen has roughly the same number of voters in my subdivision, and 837 is roughly the number of registered Democratic voters in my precinct (my subdivision used to be one precinct - but they split it into two precincts a few years ago.

I can't imagine how anyone could claim that anything was wildly popular if only the registered Democrats in my precinct were able to decide something that everyone else in the subdivision had to live by. Sure - the rest of them didn't show up to vote, but that hardly makes it wildly popular!

That comes to just more than 16 percent of the 5,167 registered voters in the city, according to figures the Pitkin County Clerk's office released. By comparison, in the first round of voting in Aspen's municipal election last spring, the turnout was roughly 44 percent.

Because there were no candidates or hotly contested issues in Tuesday's election, observers accurately predicted a low turnout. Only in the absentee ballots were the tallies even close regarding the individual questions.

One of the biggest winners of the evening was the decision to enact instant runoff voting, which won by a margin of 608 to 186, or 72 percent to 22 percent.
So only 837 voters - only 11.7% of 5167 registered voters - decided that Aspen was going to use IRV. That hardly seems fair, does it? One wonders why communities that decided to put an IRV referendum on the ballot do it during lower-turnout elections when fewer people show up to the polls? In the Fall elections, only 16% of voters turnout. In the Spring 2007 elections, 44% turned out.

And according to analysis of elections and runoffs in Aspen, the lowest reported turnout in a June runoff election was 986 votes - or 149 more than voted on the IRV issue. How can IRV supported claim that IRV is the answer to low-turnout runoffs then scheme to put IRV on the ballot at a time when they know there will be low turnout?

Why do IRV backers put IRV on the ballot during lower-turnout elections - what are they afraid of?

Identified as ballot question 2E, instant runoff voting was ahead from very early on election night, beginning with absentee and early voting tallies, as were the other four questions.

Voter Doug Allen said he favored instant runoffs,
which gives voters the option of ranking candidates in order of preference - first, second, third, etc. First choices are tabulated, and if a candidate receives the majority of first choices, or 50 percent plus one vote, he or she is elected. If no one receives the majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated using each voter's preferences, indicated on the ballot.

"It gets it all over with much more expediently," Allen said.
Several voters noted the expense of having a second round of elections - both for the city and candidates, who must muster a follow-up campaign - as sufficient reason to change the system.

Runoffs are "a drain for people after they've already gone through one campaign," said Karen Day-Greenwood. "It's so hard on everybody and expensive."

Voters amended the city charter in November 2000 to institute runoff voting and the first runoff took place in June 2001, when voters chose Helen Klanderud over Rachel Richards for mayor after neither candidate received 50 percent of the votes cast, plus one, in the first go-round.

One voter Tuesday said she voted against 2E, swayed by this year's mayoral race between Mick Ireland and Tim Semrau. Ireland ultimately won the post in the June runoff after the candidates spent an additional month stumping for votes and clarifying their stances on the issues, while voters mulled over their choice for mayor.

"I guess it doesn't hurt to have a second thought about it," she said.

John Colson's e-mail address is
Then there's the "expediency" thing that IRV backers tout. They claim it's easier for voters to go to the polls only one time with IRV rather than going for a partisan primary (and potential runoff) and general election (and potential runoff), or even for non-partisan elections with potential runoffs. They do make a good case saying that runoffs don't usually have a turnout as high as the election which came before the runoff. And they do claim that primaries are for party activists and not the general public, and that voter turnout is lower for primaries than for general elections.

But the whole thing about expediency bothers me. I grew up with a grandfather who was a skilled craftsman - a carpenter and a contractor. My grandfather and his brothers built houses and churches in the Scranton, PA area. And his father was a stonemason back in Italy, where other family members were makes of rope as well. All skilled trades back in the old country. I grew up with a work ethic where if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. And expediency bothered my grandfather, because it usually means people cut corners and accept a thing that might not done correctly just so they can get it done faster.

It used to be back in the day of buying name-brand merchandise from local stores, the things I bought worked right out of the box - and for many years after. So I didn't mind on those rare occasions when I had to take something back to the store and get a refund or exchange because it didn't work right out of the box (very rarely) or it stopped working at some point.

However, so much junk today is being made by slave labor in China and other countries. It gets a name-brand label slapped on it - and arrives DOA in big box stores. The result is that quality and high standards suffer for world trade, free markets, and for "expediency". Quality dies - and few people object. Mom & Pop stores on Main Street go out of business. Small business owners used to run for local office and sponsor Little League teams because they had a link to the town or city they were based out of. How many managers of "big box" stores run for office? How many Little League teams are sponsored by The Home Depot? I mean - you might as well just pay less for the same junk at Harbor Freight, and pay a few extra bucks for the "warranty" which just means you get to bring it back and swap for a new one forever! Of course, the time you lose not being able to work and go back and forth to the store you won't get back.

The result of this "race to the bottom" is that I get very offended when anyone tries to apply this to our political processes - especially elections. Why? Because it's pretty damned hard to take an election back to the store and get an exchange when the "product" fails to deliver what was promised.

Here are some quotes on "expediency" - see if you feel as I do that "expediency" shouldn't be a factor in deciding what election method to use:

“Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.” - Lao Tzu, 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher

“Where principle is involved, be deaf to expediency.” - James Webb, Senator from VA

“There's an enduring American compulsion to be on the side of the angels. Expediency alone has never been an adequate American reason for doing anything. When actions are judged, they go before the bar of God, where Mom and the Flag closely flank His presence.” - Jonathan Raban, British novelist
The more complicated you make an election, the less likely people are going to be able to understand what went wrong before the election is "certified" by someone who really doesn't know what happened and is only signing off because they don't want to admit they don't understand. Do we really want to out-source our elections to black-box consultants who tell us everything worked well when we really don't have the time or enough information to know for ourselves?

American Idol is like IRV - which is like Fizzbin!

After I got done with my recent posting slamming Rob Richie for comparing American Idol to IRV (on how AT&T possibly gamed the American Idol elections), I noticed that Joyce McCloy created an amusing post using a clip from "Star Trek" on the game of "fizzbin" - an game that Kirk pulled out of his "Asspen" to provide a distraction. Here is a good description of the game from the wiki article:

Fizzbin is a fictional card game created by Kirk in the Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action". While being held hostage on Sigma Iotia II with Spock and McCoy, he spontaneously invented a confusing card game to distract the henchmen guarding them.

The rules were intentionally very complex. Each player gets six cards, except for the player on the dealer's right, who gets seven. The second card is turned up, except on Tuesdays. Kirk dealt the henchman two jacks, which are a "half-fizzbin." When the henchman said he needs another jack, Kirk warned that a third jack is a "shralk" and is grounds for disqualification. With two jacks, one wants a king and a deuce, except at night, when one wants a queen and a four.

At this point, Kirk dealt a third jack, but to keep the ruse going, he ignored the disqualification rule he had just made up. He explained that, had a king been dealt instead of a jack, the player would get another card, except when it's dark, in which case he'd have to give it back. The top hand is a "royal fizzbin," but the odds of getting one are "astronomical": when Kirk asked Spock what the odds are, Spock truthfully replied that he had never computed them.

Kirk called the last card a "kronk" and then purposely dealt a card such that it fell on the floor. As the henchman being taught reached down, Spock nerve-pinched him while Kirk and McCoy attacked the other guards, allowing the three to escape.

Once in Deep Space Nine, Quark mentioned the game as a way for him and Odo to while away the time while traveling on a runabout;[7] whether it had become a real game or if it had been a reference was never explained. Playable versions of the game have been invented, and it featured in the episode "Nantucket Sleighride" of the animated series Starcom.

I admit that when I first started to read the complicated Aspen IRV rules, I felt a lot like the henchmen in the clip when they were trying to understand Kirk's explanation of "fizzbin". Should anyone have to work that hard to understand how to vote, or how the votes are counted?