Monday, March 16, 2009

Why don't they ask people if they would prefer IRV when it costs more than traditional elections and runoffs?

I am getting so sick of people claiming everyone prefers IRV to traditional elections and runoffs, citing surveys as proof IRV is the greatest thing since sliced white bread!

I just attended a meeting of the Cary Town Council and there were some pretty awful assumptions made about IRV - that it's always cheaper than holding traditional majority elections with runoffs if needed.

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.
While supporters are claiming that Cary taxpayers saved $28,000 in the 2007 election by using IRV, they cannot honestly make that claim because they didn't keep track of all expenses. IRV was done under the table and off the books. Labor and services were donated by non-profit groups (including pro-bono services from so far un-named PR firm and free websites provided by the main group pimping IRV) and none of it was kept track of.

But even public information officers seem to buy into the very simplistic argument that one election is cheaper than two. Check out the fiscal impact statement at

Fiscal Impact:

(1) Below are the FY 2010 budget estimates based on each type of election, with and without IRV (all costs include one-stop early, contract costs, etc.). These estimates include the IRV estimates that the Town of Cary would absorb to cover voter education. These estimates assume the maximum number of elections possible with each method of election. Also, these figures include the cost of Cary contracting with Wake and Chatham Counties to conduct its municipal elections, since Cary is in both counties. These numbers reflect the highest possible amount of charges we would incur; actual expenses would more than likely be less as the county pays a portion of the cost of elections when other county issues are on the ballot.

Partisan Primary and Election without IRV (potential of three elections):


Partisan Primary and Election with IRV (two elections and IRV education costs):


Non-Partisan Plurality without IRV (one election):


Non-Partisan Plurality with IRV (one election plus IRV education costs):


Non-Partisan Election and Runoff without IRV (two elections):


Non-Partisan Election and Runoff with IRV (one election plus IRV education costs):


Non-Partisan Primary and Election without IRV (two elections):


Non-Partisan Primary and Election with IRV (one election plus IRV education costs):


(2) Fiscal impacts for future budget years might potentially be less if the Town were to continue using IRV, especially once IRV is well established and no longer requires public education.
That last statement is incredible, because there is ample evidence from the San Francisco Board of Elections that shows they have been spending $1.87 per registered voter on IRV elections since 2004, and in 2008 a civil grand jury informed them that they aren't doing a good job educating voters. Even after 4 years, voters not only require continuing education but they haven't been getting enough even after spending $1.87 per registered voter! See for more information.

What about the people who continue to move into Cary - will they not need IRV education? What about people who become citizens or turn 18 - will they not need voter education? It's overly simplistic to

It has not been proven that IRV will save any jurisdiction any money. In fact, financial impact studies by other governing bodies such as in VT and MD and even Washington state have shown that IRV could easily cost more money and be much more complex to administer and be less transparent and open.

There are also no real goals here – one of which is whether or not IRV is easier or harder for voters to understand how to cast their votes? Is another goal of the IRV pilot program to compare how easy or difficult it is to count or otherwise administer IRV elections vs. traditional elections and runoffs?

Several jurisdictions have performed studies to see how much it will cost to implement IRV. The Vermont Secretary of State performed a study. VT is a small homogenous state with highly educated and active voters and no central elections commission or state-wide standards like we have in North Carolina. Even though VT claimed they could do IRV on the cheap with voter education costs around 25 cents per registered voter, their study did find that IRV would be more expensive.

Maryland is a state with a central elections board and of a similar size (slightly smaller) and makeup. The MD Legislature performed three fiscal studies on IRV – in 2001, 2006 and 2008 – and estimated as best they could the costs per registered voter for initial implementation ($3.54) and ongoing voter education ($0.48) on top of the current costs per registered voter for election administration. These costs were not complete because there is certified software or equipment that can tabulate IRV at this time. None of the IRV bills passed out of committee, presumably because it appeared that IRV would cost more than the cost of rarely-needed runoff elections..
What would the combination of the Maryland costs per registered voter for implementation and for voter education be if they were used here in NC?

Initial cost of $3.08 per registered voter multiplied times 6,283,277 registered voters. 48 cents per registered voter in ongoing costs every year thereafter.

Initial cost of $3.08 per registered voter multiplied times 6,283,277 registered voters. 48 cents per registered voter in ongoing voter education costs every even year thereafter, and 24 cents per registered voter in odd-year elections.

The Maryland cost estimates factor in elections every two years, whereas in North Carolina we have local elections in odd years, and elections for county officers in both odd and even years. Therefore IRV voter education would need to be done each and every year. With 5.8 million voters over the summer and 6 million voters as of 11/04/08, annual voter education costs alone would equal the cost of the rarely needed state-wide runoff elections. Add to that nearly $20 million in implementation costs (not including certified software and hardware that does not exist) and IRV would never be cheaper than holding second elections even at the state level. So unless you blindly believe that one election (no matter how complicated) is cheaper than two, the push to IRV can’t really be about costs unless you chose to ignore this evidence.

So why is it that no one is asking questions about supporting IRV over traditional elections and runoffs even if IRV costs more than those elections?

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