Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Durham council rejects both plurality and IRV!

I attended the Durham City Council meeting last night where they were going to discuss changing their electoral system from nonpartisan primary and general election to a nonpartisan plurality.

Now I have written that if a community is going to change, I prefer plurality over IRV for sure. But I will admit that I like more elections rather than fewer - and my understanding of how Durham's system works is the primary and general election functions something like a general election and a runoff. And I favor traditional runoffs - like Roberts Rules of Order favor them - over Preferential Voting (aka IRV/RCV/STV).

Stella Adams - NCDP First Vice Chair - said she had no problems with Plurality elections, but said she didn't like IRV and would sue if Durham tried to impose IRV elections on her. She'll have good company - and lots of help on her lawsuit (guess who?)

Some people did suggest IRV, but those who did pretty much got it wrong. A student from the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy gave an entertaining presentation about the benefits of IRV - but he got some pretty important details wrong. He left the impression that Cary uses IRV when they do not. Cary participated in the pilot in 2007 and has not decided whether or not to participate in the 2009 pilot. It looks like they won't do it - even with Erv Portman dragging it back out every meeting.

I must confess that I secretly feel that Erv's actions are not that he really believes in IRV as an election method. I feel it's a form political narcissism - IRV is pronounced the same way that his first name (Erv) is pronounced. So for Erv, it's not like looking into a mirror and seeing his own reflection (which got Narcissus into trouble) but like listening to your own name being called over and over and OVER again (like Cary IRV supporters kept pronouncing IRV as one word, not spelling it out).

The Sanford Institute student also got it wrong when he used two other speakers (who signed up right behind him and ceded their time to him so he could speak for longer than 2 minutes - good trick which I must remember for future meetings - but isn't that like giving someone else your vote?) to demonstrate how easy IRV elections are. He claimed that in an election of three candidates where there were a total of 50,000 votes - one candidate got 20,000 votes, another got 18,000 and a third got 12,000. Since no one got 50% plus one vote, IRV would allow the 12,000 first column votes for the loser to to transfer to the top two candidates - 10,000 to the first candidate (giving him a total of 28,000) and 2,000 to the second (for 20,000)- allowing the candidate with 28,000 votes to win with a majority.

Problem with those simple examples is that there is never 100% participation in the subsequent rounds.

In real life IRV elections, not enough voters cast votes in the subsequent columns to give the candidate a real majority of the total first column votes. In Burlington VT - where they
love IRV - 16.5% of the voters didn't go beyond the first column and 37.8% didn't vote beyond the second column. As has happened in damn near ALL the IRV elections across the country. In Cary, Don Frantz won the election with only 1401 votes out of 3022 first-column votes cast - not 50% plus one vote.

Which is probably why some IRV supporters are not claiming IRV ensures majority wins - but better plurality wins. Geeze - talking out of both sides of your mouth!

What's the point of doing IRV if all you are doing is shooting for the better plurality if it always costs more up front and might not be needed?

So I am glad that Durham decided to stick with primaries and general elections. If they had to change things, I'd prefer a simpler plurality election over IRV anyday!


Durham council lets elections be

Change to plurality system rejected

DURHAM - After 45 minutes of public comment and discussion, Durham's City Council voted to leave its electoral system alone.

In a 7-0 vote that came during halftime of the NCAA championship game, the council rejected a proposal to switch its municipal elections from a nonpartisan primary and general election format to a nonpartisan plurality.

The Durham County Board of Elections had proposed the change as a cost-saving measure, estimating it would save city taxpayers between $170,000 and $185,000 each election year by eliminating one round of voting.

"Money isn't everything," said Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, who moved to keep the city's elections just as they are.

Citizen comment before the vote was almost unanimously opposed to a change.

"Just vote it down. It's not going to help anybody," said Lavonia Allison, president of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

"It's sad to put a price tag on our future," said Carolyn Harris. "Let's think about our freedom."

Board of Elections Chairman Ronald Gregory defended plurality as "a method that is employed successfully" in many other communities. But Mayor Bill Bell said he had heard no wish for a change from citizens.

"I haven't seen any outcry, any groundswell," he said. "In the face of that overwhelming majority [of speaker opposition], I'm comfortable with the motion that's on the floor" to stay with the present method.

While speakers were overwhelmingly against plurality elections, some did suggest Durham consider the "instant-runoff" system, under which voters rank candidates in order of first, second and third preference.

If no candidate wins a majority, a winner is declared by a combination of preference.

Victoria Peterson, a frequent, if unsuccessful, candidate for public office in Durham, added her voice to those opposing plurality elections, but she took her opportunity at the microphone to support merging the city and county governments.

She also called for raising City Council salaries to at least $32,000 a year, which she said would be equivalent to pay for a full-time job.

"It's so unfair to work these individuals so hard, and we only pay them, what?" she said.

Told council members' pay is about $18,000 per year, Peterson said, "That is embarrassing."

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