Saturday, March 14, 2009

Report on the 3/12/09 Cary Town Council Public Hearing on IRV

On 3/12/09, the Cary Town Council held the second meeting where the 2009 IRV pilot was addressed.

There was about a two to one ratio of pro-IRV speakers to anti-IRV speakers. Andy Silver, Perry Woods, Don Hyatt and myself spoke out against IRV. Don Hyatt, a Republican from Cary, used similar words used by John Hollingsworth (former president of the Wake County Progressive Democrats):

"The IRV math doesn't make sense!"

Here is Andy Silver's report:
Chris, Perry, I, and a couple other people spoke against having a second IRV pilot in Perry at the Town Council meeting tonight, and about twice the number spoke for. Then Erv Portman made a motion for IRV, and spoke for it, but Don Frantz gave a devastating account of the problems of counting the ballots in 2007, followed by comments against IRV by 3 or 4 other members. Finally, Erv withdrew his motion and another motion to use plurality to decide elections was passed, meaning only that allowing plurality elections will be discussed again, and I think there will be an open forum on it April 15. This does not rule out IRV, which can be discussed again at the same time (really complicated, in parliamentary terms). Several members wanted to get clearer information from the BOE (not sure whether Wake or state) on possibility of counting the second and third rounds of votes by optical scan - also whether the sorting before those counts could be done by machine.

Some remarks were made about disappointment with the BOEs for not providing analysis and conclusions about the 2007 pilot election - otherwise what is the point of having a pilot?

I thought that the discussion by council members was amazing - could provide an excellent civics lesson on IRV and its pitfalls. I look forward to their posting the video of the proceedings on the town website.

It was clear from talking to some town council members before the meeting that they were impressed by our side's information. The pro IRV people commented mostly on the reported ease of voting, and how Cary voters liked it according to the exit poll. They seemed to feel that our side had the most reasoned arguments.

So at the meeting I wasn't surprised at the pro-IRV arguments I heard. The same old stuff was trotted out - IRV ensures majority winners (it did not do so in Cary), it costs less (not if you keep track of all the costs and don't do it under the table and off the books), and people like it (but do they really understand it?), etc. The Cary Town info officer showed some information was cheaper, but I suspect that was not including other costs that other legislative groups have factored in.

In fact the whole issue that Cary is still claiming that IRV elections are cheaper disturbs me, given that there is overwhelming evidence from many sources (San Francisco, VT, MD, and now Pierce County WA) that IRV elections are more expensive than traditional general elections and runoffs once all the costs are considered. But Cary continues to claim that a single IRV election is always cheaper than a traditional runoff election.

From the

The respondents were next asked their support for using the Instant Runoff Voting Method using a 9-point scale from not supportive at all (1) to very supportive (9). The respondents were also informed the use of the method would save Cary taxpayers approximately $28,000 by not having to hold a physical runoff election.

No one really kept track of all the expenses in the 2007 pilot - including keeping track of the value of all the volunteer work done by FairVote and DemocracyNC that they actually have to keep track of in the 2009 pilot guidelines. So since the pilot was done so haphazardly in 2007, maybe they shouldn't claim that IRV saved money over traditional elections?

They should ask the question a couple of different ways:

  • If using IRV in a single election cost more than holding a traditional general election plus runoff, would you favor using it in Cary?
  • If using IRV meant we had to pay for the cost of voter education and an exit poll, and that cost more than holding a general election and runoff election, would you favor using it in Cary?

Another thing that was amazing about this survey was that the results showed there was a difference in how people answered the questions based on age, race, gender, income, education level, and where they lived (apartment, house, condo, etc.) - something that the original exit poll did not reveal. Could that be because Cary actually hired a professional polling organization that didn't have a dog in the hunt?

Respondents who were registered voters were subsequently asked their understanding of the Instant Runoff Voting Method (Table 63). A 9-point scale was used ranging from do not understand at all (1) to understand very well (9). The results indicate there was a level of misunderstanding among the respondents. The mean was 5.83 with 58.6% on the “understand” side (above 5) of the scale and 30.6% on the “not understand” side (Figure 19). This includes 22.0% who indicated they do not understand at all. Overall this indicates a degree of misunderstanding among the respondents.

And here is more interesting information:

There were several subgroups indicating considerably lower levels of understanding including apartment dwellers (3.65), 0-1 year Cary residents (4.10), and those with no internet access (4.62). Also exhibiting a degree of misunderstanding were $30,001-$50,000 income level (4.96), 18-25 age group (5.00), 2-5 year Cary residents (5.25), townhouse/condo dwellers (5.33), 6-10 year Cary residents (5.52), $70,001-$100,000 income level (5.52), and those without a college degree (5.55).

So clearly IRV is not the wonderful thing unaffected by socio-economic boundaries as claimed by FairVote!

But after all that - it was obvious that everything presented by the Town of Cary and IRV supporters dealt with the front-end of elections - the voting. Although a good chunk of people didn't understand IRV, and 25% of voters in the FairVote survey didn't know they were supposed to rank their choices, none of the info dealt with the back-side (or ass-end) of elections - the election administration and vote-counting.

And on this point, having two sitting council members (Frantz and Robison) who attended the 2007 IRV tabulation along with Perry Woods and myself was a major factor in why three other council members (Adcock, Robinson and Smith) had such problems with it.

First off, they didn't like the fact that Cary was once again being asked to be a guinea pig for IRV - why not let someone else do it? There was no information on what was proved in the 2007 pilot - which was something I had been asking to be done even before the election. So if they had no idea what the 2007 pilot proved, why then do another pilot in Cary? Good points for sure!

Then Frantz and Robison stated quite cleary something that I have been stating all along - the IRV tabulation procedures are lousy! As simple as some claimed they were, the Wake BOE couldn't follow them - and this was the council members saying it on the record, not just me. So if they couldn't follow them in 2007 - how could they be sure the same procedures would be used and followed in 2009? The big problems were with the hand-sorting by board memners and volunteers with no overhead projectors, along with the math and calculator errors - and of course the secret non-public recount that no one (not even the candidates) were invited to!

Add to that some last-minute plan to somehow use M-100s scanners to count the hand-sorted votes that had no details to it, and the council members were not very impressed. They wanted more details - and I suspect those details either don't exist yet, or if they do - using the M-100s in that way might not be legal. The Council members weren't impressed by any plan that still used problematic hand-sorting. So they decided to ask for more information from the Wake BOE and deal with it at another meeting in two weeks.

Other than some things that I heard from one particular council member that I couldn't believe he actually said and believed himself, that was the end of IRV at this particular meeting. Then the Council voted 6 to 1 to consider switching to the lower cost plurality election method - which will be cheaper still than using IRV with any method. Especially since IRV only delivers plurality victories based on the total number of votes cast in the 1st round - which if IRV supporters are going to be intellectually honest about it - is all that should count if they want to stick to their claims that IRV is one single election. You can't go changing the denominators of an election to manufacture a majority win if you want to still claim it's a single election.

But this did remind me of the 2007 Raleigh City Council meeting where I went up against Bartlett, Gilbert, Poucher and Hall on IRV. The Raleigh City Council decided to wait two weeks to gather more info, then came back and couldn't even gather support for a motion to use IRV - it died in chambers. When municipal leaders really have the time to study IRV, and they have access to all the information - it goes down in flames.

That is what happened in 2007. And last year when the City of Wilmington was considering a special law to allow them to use IRV (before there was a pilot extension bill), they backed out of it because they found out about the back-side problems as well as the majority failure issues and costliness. It was also because someone wrote the bill to require the use of IRV, not give them the option.

It's just like it says on my 2nd plate at the Flying Saucer: "VAX IS USSR" (anagram)

Chris Telesca

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