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.
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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?

How American Idol is like IRV!

In an earlier posting I wrote about a "huff piece" written about IRV elections in Aspen CO by FairyTaleVote's Rob Richie. At the very end of the piece, Rob mentioned the following:

A Timely Quote: How American Idol is like IRV:

"Despite never having been among the bottom-three vote-getters this season, Danny [Gokey] wound up on the short end of 88 million votes Wednesday night, which eliminated him from the competition. With only a million votes separating Kris and Adam this week, Danny's sizable voting bloc could still influence the outcome. Will his supporters throw their weight behind dark-horse-turned-contender Kris? Or will they stay away from the phones? The answer to that question could determine your next American Idol." - Brian Mansfield, in May 14 story for USA Today, "'American Idol': Danny voted off; Kris and Adam are final 2."
Voting on American Idol is not something I take very seriously. I always wondered why anyone in the election reform biz would ever hold up a show like 'American Idol' as an example of good elections. But then again, this is from a group that uses examples of voting for flavors in ice cream socials as a reason why we should use IRV in big-people elections for stuff that matters a whole lot more than what flavor of ice cream you get to eat.

I fell asleep with the TV on (MSNBC) and I awoke this morning to a little something about how AT&A May Have Swayed 'Idol" Results - they are even talking about it on "Morning Joe" where they admit to not understanding exactly how this could happen. Wonder how they feel about IRV? ;-)

So I googled "AT&T tainted American Idol vote" and ironically I got an article in The Huffington Post (the same place that posted Rob's crowing about IRV) "AT&T May Have Swayed 'Idol' Results":

New York Times:

AT&T, one of the biggest corporate sponsors of "American Idol," might have influenced the outcome of this year's competition by providing phones for free text-messaging services and lessons in casting blocks of votes at parties organized by fans of Kris Allen, the Arkansas singer who was the winner of the show last week

So I went to the article in the NY Times:

May 27, 2009
AT&T May Have Swayed ‘Idol’ Results

LOS ANGELES — AT&T, one of the biggest corporate sponsors of “American Idol,” might have influenced the outcome of this year’s competition by providing phones for free text-messaging services and lessons in casting blocks of votes at parties organized by fans of Kris Allen, the Arkansas singer who was the winner of the show last week.

Representatives of AT&T, whose mobile phone network is the only one that can be used to cast “American Idol” votes via text message, provided the free text-messaging services at two parties in Arkansas after the final performance episode of “American Idol” last week, according to the company and people at the events.

There appear to have been no similar efforts to provide free texting services to supporters of Adam Lambert, who finished as the runner-up to Mr. Allen.

Since then, angry supporters of Mr. Lambert have flooded online chat boards with messages claiming irregularities in the competition’s voting.

Officials of Fox Broadcasting declined to discuss the situation. In a statement issued Tuesday, a spokesman for AT&T said, “In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community. A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested.”

Details of the voting support were first reported last week in an article in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Representatives of AT&T helped fans of Mr. Allen at the two Arkansas events by providing instructions on how to send 10 or more text messages at the press of a single button, known as power texts. Power texts have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show’s toll-free phone lines. The efforts appear to run afoul of “American Idol” voting rules in two ways. The show broadcasts an on-screen statement at the end of each episode warning that blocks of votes cast using “technical enhancements” that unfairly influence the outcome of voting can be thrown out.

And the show regularly states that text voting is open only to AT&T subscribers and is subject to normal rates.
So American Idol voting was capable of being influenced by a group that engaged in voter education, and that controls both the counting and casting of votes.

I guess Rob was right - American Idol is like IRV. Timely indeed!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Has the Aspen Election Commission certified the May IRV elections?

And if not - why not?

For Mayor -
Mick Ireland (4) 0 1273 ELECTED -- 4th round

For Council Seat 1 - ttp:// Council Seat 1 Round4.htm
ROUND 4 -- Jack Johnson (2) has been DEFEATED -- transferring all votes.
Derek Johnson (8) +40 1273 ELECTED -- 4th round

For Council Seat 2 -
ROUND 3 -- Michael Behrendt (5) has been DEFEATED -- transferring all votes.
Torre (4) +200 1273 ELECTED -- 3rd round

Votes aren't the only things being pulled out of someone's "Asspen"!

Rob Richie wrote a "huff piece" for the Huff Post about IRV. As usual, he put a positive spin on the Aspen IRV election (which I don't think has even been certified yet). And he got stuff wrong.

In a Nutshell
Instant runoff voting is a ranked choice voting system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Recommended by Robert's Rules of Order for postal elections and used in a rapidly growing number of elections here and abroad, it represents a major improvement over the usual plurality-based and two-round systems of voting. It protects majority rule, eliminates the need for costly extra elections and all but eradicates the potential chaos of "spoiler" candidacies. But beyond its clearly established benefits, we are seeing anecdotal evidence that suggests that IRV has a positive effect on the influence of big money on elections, and mitigating the temptation for campaigns to "go negative."

It used to be that FairVote claimed that Robert’s Rules of Order recommended IRV over all other election methods – now it’s just for postal elections. But I am not sure that IRV is being used in a rapidly growing number of elections here and abroad. Those governments that already have a parliament use IRV/RCV or STV. I don't think that any new overseas governments are clammoring to use IRV. In fact, 61% of British Columbia voters recently gave STV (a version of IRV) a crushing defeat - in the second defeat for ranked choice voting in BC.

I am sure FairVote is spending a lot of money trying to push IRV in communities all around the country and the world. But here in NC, IRV is failing to catch on.

In 2007, only 2 out of over 500 municipalities chose to take part in an IRV pilot program. Only one election went to IRV, and that was a disaster! There were no IRV elections in NC in 2008 (probably because our own State Board of Elections felt IRV was too risky to use in the 2008 federal elections with the expected heavy turnout). A bill to allow the Wilmington City Council to have the option to have IRV elections was pulled at the request of the City Council when the language of the bill would have REQUIRED the use of IRV. And even though an IRV pilot program extension bill was passed in 2008, that bill required guidelines that our State Board of Elections could not meet (IRV conflicts with general election laws) so that only one community opted to participate in the 2009 pilot.

That one single community out of over 500 in North Carolina was Hendersonville. They participated in the 2007 pilot only in the front end of the election (the ranking of candidates). As the election in Hendersonville went the same way as two IRV elections in Takoma Park (they had a first round majority and didn’t need IRV to determine the winner by tabulating subsequent rounds), Hendersonville really had no rational basis for assuming that IRV elections would go smoothly. In fact, since they use a largely untested and certainly uncertified workaround for tabulation of the DRE votes on Excel spreadsheets, the IRV method using DRE machines is an untested one. One City Council member claimed that there was a paper trail for the IRV vote, but there has never to the best of my knowledge been a testing of doing a full-scale recount of IRV votes using the thermal paper trail created by DRE machines.

In all well-intentioned attempts to reform our electoral system, the primary goal is fairness: finding mechanisms allowing all eligible voters to have a better chance to participate and be represented. When those criteria are satisfied, we think that government becomes more accountable and more honestly reflects the will of the voters. But sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised when a change designed to improve the political system in a broad sense also turns out to have other desirable effects beyond the initial intentions.
I am not really sure that all attempts to reform our electoral system are well intentioned and have fairness in mind. I am certainly not sure that those are the intentions of FairVote. And I certainly don’t think that IRV elections satisfy those criteria.

I do not believe that IRV is a fair electoral system because it is too complex not only in the front-end voting part of the election, but especially in the back-end of the counting. Candidates in Cary, NC admit to being confused on how to deal with campaigning in IRV elections. Voters in Cary and in Hendersonville were also complaining about the cofusion.

You must have a simple and easy to understand method for counting votes and explaining how the winners will be determined. IRV in almost any form is “black box” voting – hard to explain, hard to understand for educated people and “just trust us – we’re well-intentioned reformers” for everyone else.

This is exactly what we're seeing with the growing implementation of instant runoff voting (IRV) in municipalities across the country. With IRV, voters have one vote, but are allowed to indicate their backup choices in the event that their favorite candidate lacks enough support to win. After voters rank candidates on a ranked choice ballot, the first-choice rankings are tabulated. If no candidate wins a majority (50% plus one), a series of "instant runoffs" take place. The weakest candidates are eliminated and ballots for that candidate are added to the totals of the remaining candidates until one candidate earns more than half the votes. The winner is the majority, consensus choice. (Minnesota Public Radio recently did a charming video demonstration of IRV in action using Post-It notes, which you can watch here.)
One candidate earns more than half of what votes? The total number of votes cast in the first column of each race, or more than half the votes of the last two candidates standing?

A successful IRV election was held in Aspen, Colorado last week (the city's first IRV election), in which incumbent mayor Mick Ireland defeated three challengers in a contest with a record-breaking turnout; 45% versus the usual 37-38%. Analysis of the election by TrueBallot showed that every single vote cast for mayor was valid, meaning 100% of those who opted to vote for mayor had their vote count. There were more voter errors in the novel use of IRV to elect two at-large city council seats, but still less than 1% of those at the polls.
Who says it was successful? The election hasn't even been certified yet! Comments by many people suggest that the reason for the turnout was that people wanted a change in administration. Ireland was pushing IRV because of the advantage it gives incumbents. Ireland and other pro-IRV candidates got themselves on the IRV commission to figure out how to run IRV in Aspen. Were other candidates on this commission? If not - why not?

Also notable were the fundraising figures. Challenger Marilyn Marks outspent Ireland, breaking Aspen records with almost $40,000 in funds. Ireland mustered less than half of Marks' total, with less than $18,000 raised. Despite this disparity in resources, Ireland emerged victorious. The biggest spender in the city council race also was defeated in an election in which the two incumbents were upended.
Where did Rob Richie get these figures from – did he pull them from his "Asspen"? According to the public spending reports, Ireland had spent $14,513 up to 4/29/09 vs. $10,149 by Marks during the same period. The final reports won’t be out until June, so where did Rob Richie get his “almost $40,000 in funds” figure from? Did he make that up?

We knew IRV helped level the campaign finance playing field when avoiding costly runoffs, as would have happened previously in Aspen. We didn't anticipate an impact within single elections, but here's why there might be a connection. In a typical campaign, campaign money is often spent attacking one's major opponent through ads. That tactic assumes the "zero sum" logic of a two-person race in which every vote lost by an opponent helps you by default. But with IRV, voters are more likely to have more than two choices. Candidates have a greater motivation to make an affirmative case to earn support because negative attacks may hurt another candidate without helping you.
There "might be a connection"? This is quite a stretch! How much would a runoff election cost in Aspen's 4 precincts (5 including ABM and in-person Early Voting)? Would it have cost the $7,500 paid to True Ballot to run the election - including the fix of that pesky "inverse" problem that declared the lowest vote-getter in a pre-election test to be the "winner"?

That is not what folks in Aspen say about the campaigns. Most everyone agrees that the lack of the run-off and having 9 candidates in the field allowed the candidates to run “motherhood and apple-pie campaigns.” There was no real substance to the answers, and positions. They were able to run popularity contests without having to take positions. There was too much noise to pick out a real message. That is one of the big problems with IRV!

One of the reasons why Robert’s Rules of Order favor traditional election and runoffs over preferential voting is the real lack of choices. In Aspen and elsewhere, the month of run off among only 6 candidates (4 council and 2 mayor) would have allowed for real issues to be debated and discussed. From my own experience in the 2008 primary campaigns in NC, with so many candidates running, no one got a real chance to tell other voters what the real differences were between the candidates. Both of the runoff candidates for Labor Commissioner – John Brooks and Mary Fant Donnan (disclosure – I know John Brooks and supported him in the runoff) – felt that the runoff gave them a chance to explain the differences between each other but also between them and the current Republican Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. Had we had IRV in that primary election, I doubt few voters would have been able to make responsible and informed choices in the Labor Commissioner race that had a 33% falloff from the Presidential and other top-ticket races.

I am convinced that in the future, if there are more IRV elections, candidates will hire math consultants to learn how to game the system, and run campaigns for a month that focus on popularity (lots of bbq’s and pizza parties) and not on ideas and substance. Is that really how we want to elect our officials?

Because voters get the option to rank their preferences, candidates also have a new incentive to make their case to backers of other candidates. Negative attacks perceived to be unfair are particularly counter-productive if the candidate on the receiving end loses early in the counting and that candidate's backers punish the attacker by ranking other candidates higher on their ballot. Attacks will still be leveled at opponents in IRV elections, particularly when there is a clear frontrunner as was the case in Aspen, but overall IRV encourages more positive, substantive campaigns in which candidates try to earn first-choice support from opponents while remaining attractive to other candidates' supporters. The Aspen Times weighed in after the election, writing, "[We] have been impressed with the professionalism displayed...[C]andidates have treated each other respectfully during these stressful times."
That is not what some observers who chose to remain anonymous have claimed about the Aspen elections. Some supporters of Marks were threatened by people in the Ireland campaign.

Let's take a look at another example. Earlier this year in Burlington, Vermont, the Progressive Party's Bob Kiss was re-elected as mayor, vaulting from second place after the first count in an IRV election to win with 51% against Republican state legislator Kurt Wright. Just as in his initial upset win in 2006, when he was outspent by approximately four to one by a Democratic state senator, Kiss was heavily outspent by his three main opponents. All three wielded larger war chests, including Wright who spent twice as much as Kiss.
So what? Progressive candidates have won election for Mayor since the 70s or 80s WITHOUT IRV. IRV was not necessary for Progressives to win elections in Burlington, VT.

But once again money seemed to mean less when negative attacks aren't useful. Burlington's candidates participated in forums across the city, and, in part due to IRV, spent little time debasing each other. The positive, substantive tenor of the campaign even won IRV some new converts of past skeptics such as Democratic city councilor Bill Keogh who told the Burlington Free Press, "This campaign has been very, very good," and that the four leading candidates had been "as forthright as they can be with their views. This is the most respectful and informative campaign in Burlington in a long time."
Other observers have found that IRV tends to drive the negative campaigning underground.

Obviously, in the Aspen and Burlington cases the mayoral victors had the benefit of incumbency despite their deficits in cash. But they also showcase a trend that is emerging in IRV races across the country. Similar results have been seen in San Francisco, which has used IRV for city elections every November since 2004. Numerous highly competitive races have gone to candidates who were outspent, including several neighborhood-based candidates targeted by downtown business in the 2008 elections. The editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2008 wrote that in the highly contested open seat race for District 9 on the Board of Supervisors:
Not really sure these examples are accurate – since Richie got his numbers wrong in the Ireland v. Marks race.

"[The winner] will probably be the one who gets the most second-place [rankings]. So it's in everyone's interest not to go negative. If Sanchez, say, started to attack Quezada, the Quezada backers would get mad and leave Sanchez off their ballots -- and that would hurt Sanchez when the second-place votes are counted. So everyone has been pretty well behaved in [District 9]. I've heard a few whispers here and there, and a few people have tossed off a few nasty comments, but overall the candidates and their supporters recognize that it's better to stay positive."
So that results in bland campaigns that have little focus on issues and the differences between candidates. That is not very democratic!

Indeed, the winner was in fact one of those candidates that embraced the idea of forging alliances over burning bridges. One result of this is that with every member now elected through IRV, the city's Board is far more diverse and community-based than ever in its history. Its 11 members include three Asians, two Latinos, one African-American and one Iranian-American.
Does this have more to do with who runs for office in those communities vs. who votes for them? If IRV is supposed to bring diversity – why doesn’t Takoma Park MD (home of FairVote) have a diverse elected government?

This is not a definitive, scientific case study proving beyond a doubt that IRV will always negate the advantages of money or unfailingly produce smiley-faced campaigns. But what is certain is that because candidates must appeal beyond their die-hard supporters in order to rank highly on as many ballots as possible, the efficacy of negativity becomes at best highly questionable, while reasoned, substantive debate and coalition-building become far more attractive. And when discussion is valued over destruction, the relentless raising and spending of campaign funds can be less decisive.
It it not very scientific or accurate. But if you have read as much of this pro-IRV drivel as I have, you would not wonder why I call this organization “FairyTaleVote”.

In our view, IRV is already a significant improvement simply on its technical merits alone. But if it can also produce such positive byproducts -- even only occasionally -- it only serves to make a good idea even better.
Many people would not agree that IRV is a significant improvement based on technical merits alone. Many people feel that IRV threatens election integrity and verified voting. And now what do we make out of Rob Richie’s claims of “gee whiz” Pollyanna election wonderfulness when he pulls numbers out of his "Asspen" to cast the incumbent mayor as a little guy who got elected over big-spending people who, by default, must be evil?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Street Football" or how they crossed the threshold by pulling votes out of their "Asspen"!

Joyce McCloy, Kathy Dopp, and the folks at RangeVoting have posted a link to an open letter to Fair(yTale)Vote's Rob Richie in response to Rob's puff piece at the Huffington Post entitled "Good Things Come to Those Who Rank: Campaign Finance, Political Dialogue, and Instant Runoff Voting" (does that make it a "huff piece"?) from Marilyn Marks - one of the candidates in the recent Aspen Co IRV race.

Her letter to Richie is devastating to say the least. You have GOT to read it! There are links in the letter to a site which reported there was some sort of arts related issue on the ballot, and many people simply FORGOT to vote on it (I am guessing) due to the more complex IRV races. Her letter also contained a link to a report by her nephew, who goes to NCSU right here in Raleigh.

And while many people realize that all three winners in the races finished with the exact same totals - 1273 votes - few folks seem to understand how this happened.

Richie rightly claims that the process needed more explanation (and a headache remedy or several stiff drinks) in order to be understood. But even when he has explained it, the numbers still don't add up.

There was more than one race where:

1) only two candidates left standing AND

2) all the other ballots were exhausted AND

3) the threshold had not yet been crossed.

And yet they still declared a winner! Know how they did it? Instead of holding a traditional runoff election because they had no clear winner, it appears as though they took a look at the subsequent rankings for the ballots belonging to the second place finisher at that point, and saw if there were any votes for the first place finisher - then added just enough votes to cross the threshold.

They stopped counting as soon as they got 1273 - which is why the winners in three different races have exactly the same number of winning votes. IRV advocate Terry Boricious claims that is Cambridge IRV rules, but it seems more like "street football" (comedy routine by Bill Cosby, where he who brings the football makes the rules). I say this is pulling votes out of your "Asspen" (funny "South Park" episode which you can watch here). If you have seen the episode - do you recognize any link between the timeshare organization that seems to control everything and the folks and organizations pushing IRV? ;-)

How can this possibly be a smooth election where IRV proved anything other than how complicated it is in the first place?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aspen IRV makes my head hurt!

Greetings! I have been communicating back and forth with various verified voting advocates about the Aspen IRV fiasco. People have read my comments and told me I should turn them into blogs, and they have been wondering why I haven't done so yet.

That's because so much stuff is coming out about the Aspen IRV election almost daily that makes the stuff I wrote yesterday out of date! And I also have to try and wrap my head about the confusing "novel" way that Aspen ran their election. Excuse me - that was a mistake - Aspen paid a small private company to administer the IRV election using an uncertified system.

So have no fear - I will get around to writing a devastating blog (or two or three) on Aspen IRV that will tickle your funny bone and make you cry wondering how anyone is buying into this voodoo voting method!

Chris Telesca

Public Hearings are a good thing - so why are IRV advocates afraid of them?

Back in 2007, the only two communities to participate in the IRV pilot program in North Carolina did not have full public hearings before taking the vote. Four NC communities that did hold public hearings voted not to participate in the IRV pilot.

There were no IRV pilots in 2008 because the NC State Board of Elections knew as early as March 2007 that IRV was too risky to use in the 20008 federal elections with expected heavy turnout.

IRV advocates pushed an extension of the 2007-2008 pilot after the 2008 primary runoff election in June 2008. The pilot was extended from 2009-2011 (inclusive), but IRV advocates didn't get the same blank check they had in 2007-2008. A voter and candidate education as well as guidelines consistent with general election laws were required.

Verified voting activists worked with the NC SBOE suggested ways to make IRV comply with general election laws, but the NC SBOE passed guidelines that were in conflict with those laws.

IRV advocates were really pushing to get both Hendersonville and Cary to participate in the IRV pilot this year. They were especially pushing for Cary to take part. Cary was their shining example of how they claim IRV worked. They made pushing IRV for Cary in 2009 a national priority.

But this time IRV advocates wouldn't have ex parte meetings with the town council members for 6 weeks before any council meetings. For one thing, there were two Cary Town Council members who were not big fans of IRV. Don Frantz (the only official elected in our state using the IRV method to tabulate votes) and Julie Robison (who originally supported IRV until she observed the 2007 counting procedure). Several other members of the Town Council didn't want Cary to be a lab rat for IRV again.

So instead of 6 weeks of ex parte access to the Town Council like in 2007, the Cary Town Council was going to consider whether or not to take part in the IRV pilot in 2009, stay with the old non-partisan election and possible runoff, or switch to a non-partisan plurality election. That is where things got really interesting.

At the first meeting on March 12, 2009, I found out that there is a legal requirement for public hearings to change between proven legal election methods - but not to take part in election pilots of unproven (and risky) election methods like IRV. I was flabbergasted!

I wrote the following e-mail to several NC legislators who I knew were interested in election integrity:
Dear Represenatives:

I am hoping that you will put your heads together to create and support making changes this year to the IRV pilot extension bill that got passed last summer. Specifically, I would ask that you require any municipal governing body considering IRV to require:

1. advance notification of a public hearing where the public may comment prior to taking any vote to participate in the IRV or any other election pilot

2. requirement to verify the accuracy of information presented by or through the County Board of Election or the municipal clerk or information officer so that pro-IRV propaganda from IRV advocacy groups is not presented as factual information.

I attended a meeting of the Cary Town Council on March 12, 2009, and found out that while public hearings are required by law for any community considering changing election methods (plurality or majority with or without primaries or runoff elections), there are no such requirements for public hearings prior to a municipal government considering taking part in the IRV pilot project.

I talked briefly to the Hendersonville City Manager and Attorney last week, and found out that there was no advance announcement of IRV on the agenda for the March 2009 Council meeting where they voted to ask to participate in the IRV pilot for the 2009 election. There certainly was no opportunity for the public to comment on IRV one way or the other. I also found out that neither the City Council nor the City Manager or Attorney were aware of the new requirements of the law to allow for the pilot extension:

* the municipality must take part in and pay for a voter education program and

* the municipality must pay for a professional exit poll to be conducted to gather information on the IRV pilot, and keep accurate accountings of money spent on IRV.

I think that in the interest of transparency and open government, if public hearings are required prior to changing other election methods, they should be required prior to taking any action to participate in any election pilot - including IRV.

There is also an issue of the type and accuracy of information that is being presented to the municipal governing agencies and the public to get them to participate in the IRV pilot. In some cases, unsubstantiated information coming directly from the non-governmental agencies that are pushing IRV is being presented as facts by the county Boards of Election. In the case of the Wake County Board of Election, they accepted the donation of a website for the Cary IRV project that was paid for by FairVote, and the information on this page was provided by FairVote and was not subject to review or approval from the Wake County BOE.

I can provide much more information to support this brief (at least for me) e-mail to you.

Would you please consider submitting legislation to change the IRV pilot bill to require such public hearings? Thank you.


Chris Telesca

I heard back from NC House Representative Verla Inkso, who along with Senator Ellie Kinnaird are the two Godmothers of Election Integrity in the NC General Assembly. Rep. Insko agreed to introduce HB 932, which required public hearings and documentation of IRV pilot program claims. The bill did not make crossover in the North Carolina General Assembly by May 14th.

I talked to a few legislators and some other people who work down at the General Assembly, and I found out that IRV advocates were bad-mouthing this bill. They were claiming that it would have prevented Hendersonville from taking part in the IRV pilot for 2009, even though Hendersonville already voted to take part in the pilot before the bill would have taken effect.

As you may already know, Cary decided not to participate in the IRV pilot program - there wasn't even enough interest from council member Erv Portman to make a motion to consider it in the very last council meeting on April 30th before the May 6th cut-off date (after which it would have been too late for ANY community to decide to participate in the IRV pilot for 2009). So this bill would only apply to communities deciding to use IRV in the future.

So why are IRV advocates bad-mouthing this election transparency bill? IRV advocates tend to be all about transparency EXCEPT when it applies to IRV! What do IRV advocates have to hide about IRV?

Why don't IRV advocates want communities to announce interest in the IRV pilots, document information used to justify taking part in the pilot, and hold a hearing where the public may comment on IRV?

Is it because they realize that whenever IRV has been put to a public hearing process in NC where there has been transparency and full disclosure, IRV did not get used?

I have talked to several other legislators who wonder why requirements for public hearings and full disclosure of the source of documentation used to justify the pilots ought to apply to ALL election pilots - not just for IRV.

I wonder why IRV advocates are afraid of a little sunshine?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Only one IRV in NC for 2009!

On April 29, the Cary News published a guest column written by Don Hyatt and myself. They wanted it to be between 500 and 600 words. We submitted a little more than 600 words, and they whittled it down even more.

Here is a link to the published article -

In our opinion: IRV too risky

By Chris Telesca and Don Hyatt
The Cary Town Council is considering whether or not to be the subject of another election experiment with Instant Runoff Voting for the October 2009 election. It’s time for Cary and the rest of North Carolina to say “no” to IRV.

Cary has participated in dubious election experiments before. In 2002, hundreds of votes were lost in the nation’s first reported case of touch-screen voting machines failing to report election votes.

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.

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.

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, election integrity advocates 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. Do the new IRV procedures violate any contracts, warranties or other agreements with ES&S? Will Cary voters be required to foot the bill in the event of election problems?

The Cary Town Council needs to vote “no” on another IRV pilot and keep traditional runoff elections if needed. Our legislature’s Election Oversight Committee should study the 2007 IRV experiment and other IRV elections more fully before allowing any more communities to experiment with America’s right to vote.

Chris Telesca lives in Raleigh. Don Hyatt lives in Cary.
IRV was not on the agenda for the Cary Town Council meeting for April 30, 2009. One of the IRV guidelines required:
CI 1
The governing board of a jurisdiction choosing to participate in the IRV pilot must make that decision no later than two months before the beginning of the filing period for offices in that election.
And since May 6, 2009 was the 60-day cut-off period for the 2009 election filing period beginning July 1, 2009, IRV was essentially dead in Cary for 2009. Only one other NC municipality - Hendersonville - voted to take part in the 2009-2011 IRV pilot extension.

And since IRV is too risky to use in an even-year federal election, I doubt anyone will try and bring it forth for consideration in 2010. With two communities using it in 2007, and only one in 2009, that probably means no one will use it in 2011. I say "probably" because it honestly depends on what happens with the Hendersonville elections. If they don't need to tabulate the votes beyond the 1st column, the pro-IRV crowd will probably say they loved it in Hendersonville. IRV will tank for sure in Hendersonville if they do have to tabulate those other votes, because it will be so complex no one who understands it will like it.