Wednesday, July 22, 2009

IRV on the ballot AGAIN - and on the RUN - in Aspen!

Months after FairVote's Rob Ritchie and other IRV advocates crowed about how well IRV worked in various elections, IRV is on the run in Aspen. Let this be a lesson to all those other communities that are thinking about IRV/RCV - it's not easy for voters to understand, cheap, simple to administer.

Quite simply - it doesn't increase the public confidence in the election process.

Aspen voters to vote on how they vote — again

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen Times
ASPEN — Aspen voters will be asked this November if they liked the way they voted this past May for mayor and City Council members, which involved Instant Runoff Voting — or if there should be a different kind of election all together.

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday agreed to put an advisory question to voters on the fall ballot on whether the IRV election method — a system never tried before in Aspen until this past May — should be scrapped or kept in place.

If the majority of voters want to do away with IRV, the council will have to explore alternatives, which could include going back to the previous method of the mayor getting 50 percent plus one of the vote, and council members getting 45 percent plus one of the vote. If candidates don't reach that threshold, a runoff election would be held in June as it's been done in the past. Another option could be winner take all, with no majority needed, which was done many years ago in Aspen municipal elections.

Some council members said they didn't have enough confidence in, or an understanding of, the IRV process. As a result, it has opened the city up for liability and voter confusion.

While listening to the nuances of the complex IRV system and the problems associated with tabulating votes, Councilman Steve Skadron questioned whether he understood the process well enough to make an informed decision on choosing the best tabulation method. And if he didn't understand, did the voters? he asked rhetorically.

“This is a level of detail here that I am not connecting,” Skadron said, adding that because different IRV tabulation methods can produce different outcomes, there is a level of subjectivity in analyzing the results. “I'm not confident in this system.”

That's despite City Clerk Kathryn Koch and the city's special counsel, Jim True, telling the council that the IRV method used this past May worked exactly as it was designed to, and closely mimicked the runoff system that voters had been accustomed to. Koch and True, who spent hundreds of hours researching and devising Aspen's system, recommended IRV be used in the 2011 municipal election.

However, True said public education could be improved upon because many voters didn't know how to rank their candidates, or didn't rank all of them, thus reducing their chances to participate in an instant runoff.

“A lot of lessons were learned on those types of issues,” True told the council. “They will only be improved upon.”

Other council members said they think a runoff election with fewer candidates in June after the May vote gives voters a chance to learn more about their choices and the issues confronting the city.

“I've been anti-IRV for a long time,” said Councilman Torre. “The extra month of campaigning gives the voter a chance to figure out the make-up and representation on the board.”

Councilman Dwayne Romero agreed, saying the day after the May 5 election, he had an empty feeling because the results were final and there wasn't enough discourse among candidates to fully understand them or their positions. Another month of campaigning would have satisfied that, he added.

“A lot of people have come up to me and said they also missed out on that discourse,” Romero said.

The majority of Aspen residents in November 2007 voted to adopt the IRV election method in an effort to save time, money and energy that comes with a second election a month after the municipal vote was counted.

Aspen resident Don Davidson said he doesn't think IRV worked as it was intended to, nor did he have a chance to fully grasp candidates' positions.

“A lot of people, including myself, didn't understand the intricacies of IRV when we were voting for it,” he said. “And I wasn't able to get enough information on the candidates ... I viewed the [May election] as a primary and [another month] to have the issues discussed more in-depth.”

After a specific IRV method — the first of its kind in the United States because it incorporated multiple candidates for multiple seats — was chosen by an election committee made up of city staff and citizens, the council adopted it.

But IRV critics and City Hall observers decried the process in which IRV was administered and the lack of a full-blown audit of the results.

Election commissioner Elizabeth Milias said the election commission that oversaw the IRV process, which included local attorney Chris Bryan, didn't certify the May 5 results because they didn't have confidence in the security and stewardship of the ballots, as well as the auditing and testing of the tabulation system.

“It was squirrely at best,” Milias said.

Their questions and criticisms have raised enough doubt among some council members that they want voters to decide whether IRV should continue as the official election method in Aspen.

“I think the voters should have a crack at voting on this again,” said Mayor Mick Ireland.

True and Koch will craft draft ballot language and bring it back to the council for consideration. The deadline to place a measure on the November ballot is Aug. 24.

If the majority of Aspen residents decide to do away with IRV, the council will have to choose an alternate election system and present that to voters, which would require a change to the city charter. That could occur in the November 2010 election.

Torre and Ireland voiced support for moving the municipal election to June, when more residents are back in town from their offseason excursions. That also would require a public vote. Ireland noted that the mayor's seat should be a four-year term instead of two, which also could be put to voters in the future.

Why not change the charter to have municipal elections occur during June with runoffs in July? It seems that more people are in Aspen during that time of the year? Or take place in November with December runoffs?

It seems like the cure to low voter turnout is to hold elections when more people want to vote or usually vote.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

IRV advocates are a bunch of bitchy little girls!

I guess if Rob Richie can compare IRV to American Idol, I can compare IRV advocates to "Burn Notice".

"Burn Notice", airing on the USA Network, stars Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell has been one of my favorite actors since playing Ashley J. "Ash" Williams in the cult classic "Army of Darkness". On "Burn Notice", Campbell portrays Sam Axe, a former Navy SEAL now working as an unlicensed private investigator and sometime mercenary with his old friend Michael Westen, the show's main character.

You can see what a charming character Sam is in the opening intro to the show on USA (can't find a clip on youtube or USA for it). Sam is drinking a beer and complaining about spies: "You know spies. Bunch of bitchy little girls" Which could also describe how some IRV advocates have been acting lately, based on their latest posts.

When Brad Freidman wrote last month that Instant Runoff Voting was a virus attacking Los Angeles, I blogged that this was probably, in the words of Churchill, the "end of the beginning" for IRV. And rightly so. Already IRV is under assault in the very places that FairVote has been citing as shining examples of where IRV is in use and works - even if they haven't fully used IRV to both cast AND count votes.

Cary NC is not going to use IRV in their 2009 election. Fayetteville NC is also not going to use IRV this year. And there is a good chance that Hendersonville NC voters won't even need to rank choices this year - so no IRV there either. They would be like Takoma Park - where there either aren't enough choices on the ballot to rank, or they get a majority winner in the first round and don't need to use the complicated and confusing counting method.

There is movement in the communities of Aspen CO, Burlington VT and Pierce County WA to get rid of IRV. And now word is coming that San Francisco is thinking about getting rid of IRV. A different version of IRV called Single Transferable Voting was soundly rejected by voters in a British Columbia referendum.

IRV advocates are not happy about this. From what I am seeing, resources are being re-routed all around the country to do two things:

  • to fight to keep IRV in places where it has been used and failed; and
  • to add more places that will use IRV by pointing to alleged successes where it has been used in the past.

I have it on good authority that FairVoteNC has no more paid staff - it's an all volunteer outfit now!

This presents big problems for IRV advocates like Rob Richie of FairVote. They are trying to sell IRV in Los Angeles - which would be the biggest jurisdiction to use IRV. But IRV presents big problems in a place like Los Angeles with a million voters or more. They use inkavote machines that have many problems with them, so LA would most likely have to buy new voting machines. Problem is, there is no federally certified voting systems that do IRV.

LA could go with the same Sequoia machines they use in San Francisco, but that presents problems because those machines probably won't be around much longer under the new Holt paper ballot bill recently introduced in Congress. So buying Sequoia machines now would be a big waste of money that LA can't afford to waste just to do IRV.

Frisco has a couple of official languages they print up ballots for - LA has somewhere around 8 or 10, and lots of literacy issues. From talking with election officials in LA, they really don't want to spend the money on IRV all the time when they might not have a runoff in every office. LA City has their city primary in March, and their general election in May - when there are other county wide elections in November. They could save a lot of money and increase turnout merely by syncing their city elections with the rest of the county and do without IRV.

So IRV advocates like Rob Richie and others are out there doing damage control. But what they write and how they write it makes them sound - in the words of Sam Axe - like a bunch of bitchy little girls.

Rob Richie's latest "huff piece" in the Huffington Post claims that all IRV opponents are special interests that are opposed to electoral reform. This of course implies that all IRV advocates are shining knights on white chargers of electoral reform opposing the black knights of special interest, and that IRV opponents can only win by "cheating" (coming up with loads of special interest money for runoff elections if needed). Of course, Richie's "huff pieces" on IRV don't allow for anyone to comment one way or the other. Perhaps because he doesn't want anyone who reads his stuff to see there is another side to the issue?

Of course Rob has to take the relative high road by calling us "special interests" - he leaves the petty name-calling to others. We are not "special interest" - we are verified voting advocates who work hard to protect election integrity. At "the end of the beginning", all that hard work is starting to pay off by getting more and more people to see how IRV threatens election integrity. And it's starting to get to IRV supporters a little further down the totem pole from Rob Richie. They are calling us "haters", as if to imply that we hate IRV and all other election reforms.

That is not true. I am not a tool of the special interests and I don't "hate" IRV. I am verified voting advocate who "loves" election simple, transparent voting who works hard to protect election integrity.

One thing you can say about verified voting advocates is that we "trust, but verify". Which is what gives IRV advocates fits. We don't automatically assume that IRV is the election reform Rob and others claim that it is, or that it does all the things he claims it does. Hell - I don't automatically trust each and everything that other verified voting activists claim either. And we do the same for Rob Richie - we try to verify the claims Rob and others make. And if we can't verify the claims time and time again, it's hard to be able to trust the people or organizations making the claims.

But IRV advocate Anthony "Doe" Lorenzo really takes the cake. This is where the "bitchy little girl" part comes in. In the electionreform yahoo group, Anthony wrote that everyone who advocates for IRV is a third-party/independent voter who work passionately for electoral reform through IRV and/or proportional representation, and that all IRV opponents in verified voting are Democrats who align themselves with special interests. He also wrote that verified voting advocates who don't like IRV "hate" IRV advocates because they are better organized than verified voting advocates. You can almost imagine himself hyperventilating himself into a hissy fit as he wrote that part.

Then he wrote about why Rob supports IRV - apparently it was because his daddy worked on a campaign for proportional representation in OH back in the early 90s that failed. Anthony claims that in this campaign, Rob and his wife had to sleep on couches in other people's houses. Apparently, these and other negative experiences so scarred Rob Richie and turned him into the "one trick pony" advocate who works IRV into every single thing he writes - including obituaries for John Gideon. Rob's carrying on his daddy's work! While that might be a wonderful story for some people, I still remember that we are in Iraq because George W. Bush wanted to finish what his daddy started in the early 90s during the first Iraq War. Sounds like "daddy issues" to me. And I thought only the women I dated in my late 20's had those problems! ;-)

So it makes me wonder is Rob Richie's passion for IRV and the whole FairyTaleVote agenda is because he really feels it's an election reform, or is it because Rob has "daddy issues" and needs to avenge his father's failure to get proportional representation in Cincinatti in 1991 (apparently it failed in 2008 also). If something isn't a real election reform, having a second generation family member doing it doesn't make it any more worthwhile. I don't hate IRV supporters. But reading these written hissy fits and being called names on line makes me pity them all the more.

It can't be easy getting your asses kicked by an all volunteer group of IRV opponents - so call us "special interests" and even "haters" and have a good cry if it makes you feel better!