Saturday, June 12, 2010

IRVFactcheck fails to deal with majority failure

The folks at the pro-IRV/RCV astro-turf group "IRV Factcheck" are at it again - this time Rob Richie and the folks at FairyTaleVote are using some really bogus ENRON-type "math" to explain how IRV really does deliver majorities:
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Rebutting the "Majority Failure" Argument Against IRV

One misleading argument made by some IRV opponents is that a "real" runoff (top two runoff, with a second election weeks or months after the first) produces a "real" majority, but that IRV may not produce such a majority. This argument is based on using different standards to compute majorities under IRV and traditional runoffs.
OK Rob - IRV and traditional runoffs are two different types of elections - why not use different standards to compute majorities?

In a traditional runoff, you start from ZERO and you then count all the new votes. You don't add the new votes to the old votes like you do with IRV. Traditional runoff elections are easier to count than IRV elections also. And as Minneapolis has proven, two elections (a primary and a general election) are cheaper than one IRV election!
These IRV opponents argue that there is a failure to produce a "real" majority under IRV because they use the total number of votes in the first round to compute a majority, not the total number of votes cast in the instant runoff. Sometimes the number of exhausted ballots - that is, ballots that don't rank any of the remaining candidates in the final instant runoff - can mean that neither of the two finalists has more than 50% of the votes cast in the first round.
Sometimes? Rob - try the largest freaking majority of the time!
The mayoral election in Burlington (VT) in 2009 is used as an example of this "failure." In the first round of that election, the results were:

Kurt Wright 2,951
Bob Kiss 2,585
Andy Montroll 2,063
Dan Smith 1,306
Write-ins 36
James Simpson 35
(With four invalid ballots, three of which were later found to be valid in a partial recount.)
OK - are we talking about 8976 total votes, or 8976 ballots of which only one was found to be invalid? What the hell is an "invalid ballot" anyway?

OK - let's play their game. Let's go with 8975 - and a majority would be 4488 votes (50% would be 4487.5 and rounded up one would be 4488). What did Bob Kiss get?
In the final result of the election, the results were:

Bob Kiss 4,313
Kurt Wright 4,061
(with 602 exhausted ballots and the 4 invalid ballots)
OK - so are you counting 3 out of the 4 invalid ballots in the first round but then claiming all 4 to be invalid in this round?

4313 is 175 votes short of the number of votes needed to have won in the first round. This is an example of "ENRON vote counting" that you get from IRV. How can 4313 votes be a majority in any subsequent round of IRV when it wasn't enough to win in the first round? Rob and the True Believers will no doubt explain.....
IRV opponents argue that although Kiss won a majority of the valid ballots in the final round of voting, he failed to win a "real" majority because his final round votes were only 48% of the votes case in the first round.
Yes - that's right - Kiss didn't win a real majority. Nice to finally hear you admit it!
IRV advocates point out that the result was due to some voters exercising their option to abstain from a choice between the two finalists - just as many registered voters abstained from voting in the first place. That doesn't change the fact that winner Bob Kiss earned majority support from voters who chose to indicate a preference for either him or Kurt Wright.
No Rob - we claim that Kiss didn't win a real majority of the first column voters. Most voters don't understand the subtle differences that you are trying to explain. But they do understand that you are trying to sell them two different explanations of what a "majority" is: one for the first round, and a totally different one for IRV.
Australia avoids this possible outcome by requiring voters to rank all candidates in its IRV races for the House of Representatives. That's certainly an option for those who care about this definition of a majority, and it does ensure the voters take the time to indicate their last choice along with their first choice. But if eligible voters have the right to skip voting altogether, some will argue that they have the right to skip ranking candidates they don't like.
Actually Rob, all such a requirement ensures is that voters will rank one or maybe two candidates per race - the rest will just be meaningless place fillers to ensure that their first one or two votes counts. Because they really don't know a damn thing about the other candidates - it's called "donkey voting" and my friend Lisa's husband who lives in Australia says that's how they vote!
But it's not fair to say that in contrast to IRV, traditional runoff produces a "real" majority while discounting the total number of votes cast in the first round when calculating a majority.
Actually Rob - it's very fair to say that. That is because a traditional runoff election a totally separate election from the election that required the runoff. It gives the voters a chance to consider the two remaining candidates in a totally new light from the original election. If your candidate made it to the runoff, you are free to vote for the same candidate again if you like, vote for another candidate, or vote for no candidate. You don't have those freedoms with IRV.

In fact, with some types of IRV where you can only vote for 3 candidates, and there are more than 3 candidates in the race, you might very well vote for candidates that never make it past the 1st round. You had two additional choices - and none of those counted. Which means that you don't even have a chance to participate in the IRV runoff.

Compare and contrast that with a traditional runoff where, if your candidate doesn't make it, you can vote for one of the remaining two, or not vote at all. But at least you have a chance to be heard in the runoff - you don't always get that with IRV.
But it's not fair to say that in contrast to IRV, traditional runoff produces a "real" majority while discounting the total number of votes cast in the first round when calculating a majority. By this argument, Vincent Dober won a "real" majority in the March 2009 Burlington's City Council Ward 7 election even though he received considerably fewer votes in the second round of the runoff election than his opponent received in the first:

Round 1:
Ellie Blais 461
Vincent Dober 612
Eli Lesser-Goldsmith 619
Write-ins 4
These are the results from the March 3, 2009 election where there was no IRV. 1696 votes cast on March 3, 2009 - 50% plus one vote is 849. No one got 849, so they had a runoff. So any runoff had to start again from ZERO - got it?
Round 2
Vincent Dober 515
Eli-Lesser Goldsmith 425
This is from the runoff election held on March 24, 2009 - totally separate election. Not an IRV election. That means you start at ZERO - you don't add totals from one day's election to the totals from another day's election. Out of a total of 940 votes cast on March 23, 2009 - Dober got 54.79% of the votes (a clear majority) and Goldsmith got 45.21%.

But Rob and the gang don't seem to understand that that Ward 7 had an election and a separate runoff. So IRV rules (whatever they happen to be at any given place and time with their slippery always changing thresholds) don't apply.
Under the standards that IRV opponents apply to IRV, we would use the first round totals to compute a majority, and Dober in the runoff would have secured only 30% of the vote - a considerably worse majority "failure" than in the Mayoral election held at the same time with IRV.
Actually - IRV supporters can't seem to tell the difference between IRV and non-IRV elections, or understand why the total number of 1st round votes in a general election wouldn't have any bearing on a runoff.
IRV opponents can't have it both ways.
Really Rob - isn't it you IRV advocates who are trying to have it both ways? Selling IRV as a single election but applying two different standards for victory?
Either Bob Kiss and Vincent Dober both won majorities or neither of them did. Under normal usage, the candidate with more than 50% of the votes counted in the final round is called a "majority winner."
Actually Rob, that's an incredibly lame argument you are making. First off, the Kiss election was an IRV election and the Dober election was not. You are arguing for sliding thresholds in elections - something that most people object to even when you try and obfuscate by talking about % turnout in subsequent IRV rounds vs. traditional runoffs.

With IRV when you starting ENRON election math, you run into the old sliding scale. Where a winner of an IRV election settled with votes in the rounds beyond the first round has fewer votes than needed to have won in the 1st round of the IRV contest. In fact, it's entirely possible for someone to win an IRV election with not a single additional vote counted from one round to another. In fact, if fewer voters just decided to stop ranking their choices, someone who wasn't a winner in the 3rd round of a race might be the winner in the the 4th round without gaining a single additional vote! Dropping turnout could cause someone to win!
A more consistent standard to compare IRV and traditional runoffs would be to look at the decline in participation from the first round to the last. In the Mayoral election under IRV, 93% of the voters who cast a ballot in the first round ended up participating in the final round. In the City Council election under a traditional runoff, only 55% of the voters who cast a ballot in the first round ended up participating in the second round.
But what does that prove? More voters participating in all the rounds of the IRV election for mayor didn't result in a winner with a clear majority of the votes cast in the first round. But the City Council Ward 7 races were two separate races. And there was a clear majority winner in the runoff.

Just like there was a real majority of Burlington voters who spoke loudly in 2010 when they voted to dump IRV in Burlington.
Another revealing example is the 2008 U.S. Senate election in Georgia. Incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss won re-election in a December runoff after falling short of a majority in November. Turnout in the second round was only 57% of the first round in spite of the fact that a Democratic filibuster-proof majority was at stake in the Senate.
First round:
Saxby Chambliss 1,867,097
Jim Martin 1,757,393
Allen Buckley 127,923
Write-ins 72
Total 3,752,577
Second round:
Saxby Chambliss 1,228,033
Jim Martin 909,923
Total 2,137,956
Rob - there was no second round in the 2008 GA US Senate race. There was a separate general election and a separate runoff. Are you deliberately trying to confuse people by comparing a separate runoff election to IRV?

And many people felt that the reason why the runoff went the way it did was because Chambliss made the runoff a race about "race" - the race of President-elect Obama. Chamblis turned out the vote in the runoff by making the runoff all about overturning the Obama victory in November. He even got McCain and Palin to campaign for him.

Martin was very conscious of his role in perhaps being the 60th vote in the Senate. Indeed his whole runoff campaign was about continuing the change to help Obama. What a pity that Obama For America (the president-elect's campaign operation) folded up their tents and didn't do the work in GA that would have given Obama a veto-proof majority. That short-sightedness on the part of Obama For America (and the successor organization Organizing For America) cost the President and the Democratic Party victories in the NJ and VA governor's races in late 2009 and the Mass Senate special election in early 2010.
If this election was held under IRV, the number of ballots cast for the final round would have been at least 96.6% of the first round total. It would likely have been higher, as most of Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley's supporters probably would have indicated a second preference. Even if Buckley won a far larger share of the vote and none of his supporters cast votes for their second choice, it would have been mathematically impossible for final round votes to fall to only 57% of the first round total as under a traditional runoff.
What the hell difference would it have made what % of the ballots cast in the final round of an GA senate race held under IRV? First off, GA uses DRE touchscreen voting machines and they can't even be sure they can count them correctly. It was proven that uncertified software patches were administered to the Diebold DRE machines in 2002 - which probably had an effect on giving the race to Chambliss in 2002. Buckely was a Libertarian, and we have no way to know what percentage of them would have ranked a second choice. And those that had cast a second choice would have been more likely to vote for Chambliss than for Martin. Sort of like how the 2007 Cary District B race would have been different had it been a traditional runoff vs. IRV

Another point is that there was no certified software that could count the IRV ballots in this race. They would have most likely had to be counted by hand and given the turnout in the November 2008 election, the IRV tabulations would not have been calculated before the results of the simpler to tabulate separate GA senate runoff elections were done.
To be fair, it is possible for second round turnout to exceed that of the first round under a traditional runoff - and every now and then it happens. However, large declines in turnout seem to be the norm under traditional runoffs - sometimes dramatically so, with turnout falling on the order of ten times in statewide primary runoffs in Texas and North Carolina in 2008. Federal primary runoffs in the several stats that hold them provide particularly strong evidence for large declines in participation from the first to the second rounds of traditional runoffs. From 1994 to 2008, turnout declined in 113 of 116 regularly scheduled federal primary runoffs, and the average decline was about 35% - see FairVote's data on these runoffs.
Perhaps the reason why large declines in turnout seem to be the norm is because we've lowered the thresholds (and standards) for many other elections. If you only have one runoff every so often, your turnout will be down. In the 2008 NC statewide runoff for Democratic candidate for Labor Commissioner, turnout was very low in those areas where that was the only race - and those areas voted for candidate Mary Fant Donnen. In other areas where there were more than one race in the runoff, turnout was higher - lots higher. And in those counties, the higher turnout gave more votes to candidate John Brooks. Had more counties had more runoff elections, the results could have been very different. Perhaps the key to greater voter turnout in runoff elections is to have more runoffs, not less?
Bottom line: you can't make a majority of voters like one of the candidates running. But you can enact IRV to make sure you always elect the candidate who has majority support over his or her top opponent in the final round and to ensure the defeat of the candidate whom a majority of voters see as their last choice - a result that plurality voting makes all too possible.
As we have proven the only sure-fire way to make sure that you elect a candidate who has majority support over his or her top opponent is to have a traditional runoff election. IRV does not ensure that the IRV winner has a true majority. IRV can even award a win to someone who didn't get a single additional vote.

And when you compare the additional extra added cost of conducting IRV elections vs. the cost of a general election and rarely needed runoffs (or even the primary elections FairVote is trying to get rid of), you have to wonder why anyone would be trying to push this costly, complex and confusing election system as an electoral reform? That is perhaps why Election Integrity advocates call Rob Richie's organization "FairyTale Vote"!

No comments: