Monday, May 18, 2009

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?

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