Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are IRV elections outcomes publicly-verifiable?

OK - county and statewide mandatory county and statewide IRV elections are here. Our own State Board of Elections knows that we don't have software that can count the votes.   We have some idea how the paper ballots will be counted, but not how the DRE votes will be counted.  So whatever schemes they have to count the votes, will the outcomes be verifiable? What are the criteria for deciding?

Check out Kathy Dopp's paper:

11 Fundamentals of Auditing Elections

All of the following procedures are necessary to avoid certifying incorrect election outcomes:
1. Use independently-auditable voting systems — voter-marked paper ballots.
70 of North Carolina's 100 counties use voter-marked paper ballots for election-day voting.  Many use them for Early Voting.  All 100 counties use paper ballots for Absentee By Mail voting.  But unfortunately, almost 40% of NC ballots are cast on DRE touchscreen voting machines.  Although they do have a thermal paper trail, not all voters check the thermal paper trail which can fail to print out up to 9% of the votes.

2. Publicly report all vote tallies (audit units) used to tally overall election results prior to randomly selecting a sample for auditing.
Verified Voting advocates in NC fought very hard to come up with a method to randomly select a sample for auditing.  But since NC law requires the audits before the results of the canvass are certified, and there is no way to tally IRV in a reliable way, this won't happen in the Court of Appeals race. 
3. Allow meaningful public observation and participation in manual audits and in security and transportation procedures for electoral records, including ballots. Prohibit ballot and electoral record access between the time of public posting and manual audits.
How will the IRV races be audited?  Ballots will be moved and the first round will be counted, canvassed, certified and audited before the 2nd and 3rd column votes will be counted.  Will there be audits of the 2nd and 3rd column votes, and if so, when?  Will the same race be audited across the entire state AFTER there is a winner declared?  Or will this race just be an example of "faith-based" voting?  
4. Use sampling methods designed to allow the public to verify that the risk of certifying any incorrect initial election outcome is less than 1%, based on within audit unit upper margin error bounds and the overall reported contest margin. Assume that outcome-altering vote fraud could be well-hidden in the smallest number of audit units possible. If maximum within audit unit margin error is assumed to be less than the upper margin error bound, then allow candidates to select discretionary units for manual auditing in addition to the random sample.
There is no way to do a meaningful hand-to-eye audit of the IRV race without counting the whole thing by hand from Murphy to Manteo. 
5. Use publicly-verifiable random selection methods, preferably weighted by upper margin error bounds of audit units rather than using a uniform sampling distribution.
6. Conduct polling place and jurisdiction-wide reconciliation of printed, used, unused, and spoiled ballots with absentee ballot and polling place records.
We really won't know which ballots are spoiled in the 2nd or 3rd columns by voter confusion, since our voting machines can't count the 2nd or 3rd columns, much less find over-votes.  The 2009 Minneapolis IRV election had a spoiled ballot rate 300% higher than the rate in their 2005 General Election.  And ABM voter won't even have anyone to ask questions of while they cast their votes - and if they make a mistake (which they are 3 times more likely to do) they won't be able to get a new ballot.  
7. Provide timely public access to electoral records necessary to evaluate the accuracy and integrity of reconciliation and manual auditing processes.
We don't provide public access to those records anyway.  We can't tell how many over-votes or under-votes we have even in the 1st column votes unless we run around to each and every precinct and get the totals off the tapes. 
8. Use voter intent as the standard for manual counts during audits.
9. Publicly report any discrepancies found during the audit and use the manual counts to correct the initial reported results.
10. Expand the sample size, perhaps to a full recount, or certify the election using an algorithm based on the premises of the sampling method. Treat any missing paper ballots as discrepancies when deciding whether to expand or certify.
11. Complete the audit prior to certifying election results.
Does the state you live in follow all these procedures?

North Carolina voters were sure we could do this with single column votes, but it remains to be seen if the State Board of Elections will adopt procedures that can be verified or even observed by candidates and their representatives, or even interested members of the public!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Statewide IRV voter education?

I attended the most recent SBOE meeting on September 1st and they dealt with IRV quite a bit.   Gary Bartlett stated the special modified voter guide for IRV should cost $485,000 - that is once they figure out how folks will be doing their IRV voting around the state.  

Larry Leake mentioned that Anita Earls showed him a voter guide from Washington State that we should "steal" for our voter guide.  By "steal" I think he meant we should imitate most of it and adapt it to our situation in NC.  Because, as we all know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  

So after the meeting, I asked Ms. Earls where in Washington State that voter guide came from.  She told me it came from Peirce County.  They had one single IRV election in 2008.  

Problem is - so many people had problems with IRV and hated it after that one single time in 2008 that they turned out in record numbers and 66% voted to DUMP IRV.  

So while it may be a great voter guide, the IRV process was still a turkey for them.  Knowing all this, non-profits were still pushing IRV, and legislators didn't want to consider what would happen to our elections if we got caught in "perfect storm" and had to use IRV in a statewide election before it was properly tested? 

Could we ever properly test and evaluate IRV?  The non-profits who have been pushing IRV will claim that it works no matter how badly things turn out this November.  

No wait - we won't be able to start counting the 2nd and 3rd column races until every other election contest is settled.  With a contested election at damn near any level (city, county or state), we won't be able to tie up the ballots for a normal IRV tabulation until that contest is settled.  Or do we wait to settle non-IRV contests until the IRV race is tallied (assuming there will be no recounts)?

What is the value of the person-hours will it take in each and every county election board across the state to sort/stack and tabulate all these IRV votes?  How many person-hours will the candidates and parties (and their observers) have to spend watching each and every tabulating team at the county BOE for the weeks and possibly months it will take to tabulate IRV?  

Keep good track of your time - because the IRV "pimps' sure won't be doing that!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So how will IRV really play out?

I went to the Wake BOE meeting on Teusday, September 7, 2010. It was about what I expected - an announcement about IRV.

I saw sample 17" ballots with the 13 candidate IRV race at the bottom of the back side of the ballot. They still don't know the procedure for tabulating the votes with counting the 2nd and 3rd columns.

After counting the 2nd column votes, why would anyone need to go into the 3rd column of votes unless there is a tie? This is where IRV makes no sense.

Our state law doesn't require a 50% plus one majority of the 1st column votes to win the top-two IRV election. What settles the election is the largest vote getter of those top two - the winner will have a majority of the total of the top-two. And here is where IRV is a waste of time.

Let's look at the 2004 Supreme Court (Orr seat) as an example. With 2,578,576 votes cast in that race, the falloff was around 24% from the top-ticket races. The top two winners were Newby at 582,864 votes, with 74,268 more votes than James Wynn at 508,416 votes. In that field of 8, Newby had 22.59% and Wynn had 19.71%.

But let's look at just the top two. The total votes for the top two was 1,091,100 votes - Newby with 53.40% and Wynn with 46.60% - Newby up by 6.8% Newby leading by 74,268 votes. Under our current IRV rules, if neither of them got a single 2nd or 3rd column vote in IRV, Newby would already be the winner.

So how likely were either of them to get additional votes - and would it really matter? Let's look to the 2007 Cary IRV race for some clues.

Out of 3022 total 1st round votes cast, Don Frantz got 1150 and Vicki Maxwell got 1075 in the first round. Don was leading, but he didn't have 1512 votes, so the race went to IRV.

But among the top-two, Frantz already had 51.69% to Maxwell's 48.31% - a 3.38% margin - half the margin between Newby - Wynn. Had there been no 2nd or 3rd column votes to transfer, Frantz would have been the winner anyway. So why bother with IRV?

But Frantz was up by 75 votes. Just considering the top-two candidates, the percentages flipped from the 1st column to the 2nd column. Frantz got 52% of the 1st round top-two total, and 48% of the 2nd round votes. Maxwell got 48% of the 1st round top-two total, and 52% of the 2nd round votes. But Maxwell couldn't overcome Don's 1st round lead. At the end of the 3rd column, Don still led Vicki by 48 votes.

Not all of the 793 voters who cast votes for other first round candidates had valid 2nd and 3rd round choices.  But let's say they did.  And 52.49% of those 793 voters cast 2nd round votes for Vicki - that would give her 416 votes to  Don's 377 in the 2nd column. Which would have brought the totals to 1527 for Frantz to 1491 for Maxwell. Don would have not only had the largest number of votes, but he would have gone over the 50% plus one vote threshold set by the first column votes.

Frantz had a 1st round lead that Maxwell couldn't overcome through IRV. But Frantz didn't really need 2nd or 3rd round votes. Someone always starts out being the leader in a top-two IRV runoff. And the 1st round plurality winner has a greater than 95% chance of winning the Instant Runoff according to analysis of all IRV races around the country.

How does that apply to the results of 2004's Newby-Wynn had it gone to IRV?; Newby had an even greater margin over Wynn than Frantz had over Maxwell. Would Wynn ever have been able to flip Newby's lead? Even if the same percentage of voters who participated in the instant runoff in Cary participate in the Newby-Wynn race, and the 2nd round vote distribution flipped in Wynn's favor like it flipped in Maxwell's favor, Wynn would still have lost.

So if the IRV winner is the 1st round winner in greater than 95% of IRV elections, why bother with the ENRON math?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So I attended yet another pre-train wreck SBOE meeting.... Raleigh on September 1st.   And boy - is IRV ever making a mess of our elections so far!

First off, we can thank Larry Leake for stating yet again that there is no certified software we can legally use to do IRV on our election equipment.  Hopefully that also means there will be no more discussion of using un-certified MC Excel spreadsheets to tabulate IRV elections - the method Hendersonville developed for their two IRV pilot elections but never had to actually use.  

There was discussion whether or not our election law requires hand counted votes from the actual voter verified paper trail (the "Real Time Log"), or could DRE counties use the "audit log", or ballot images?  

Funny thing - at this meeting someone said that Hendersonville was seriously thinking about cutting up all the thermal paper trail rolls and tabulating IRV by hand that way.  A collective groan (or a chuckle) rose from the room from all but two people - and they know who they were!  No one could possibly imagine anything good could come from counting an election from thousands of thermal paper receipts that would get scattered if someone sneezed, or would be ruined if they were cut in the wrong place. And I wonder if anyone realized how long it would take to properly ID each separate vote and cut them all up?  Can you say "carpal tunnel"?

Owen Andrews of PrintElect was there, stating that his company wouldn't be responsible for any election screw-ups caused by the state using IRV, a tabulation method not included in the EAC certification process for the voting equipment we purchased back in 2005.  

Left unanswered is - who will be responsible if there is an election meltdown due to IRV?  Who will one (or more) of the losing judicial candidates (all lawyers by the way) sue if things get screwed up?

Will we be using normal election methods (DRE or op-scan) for early and precinct voting like we did in recent elections?  

In the paper counties for in-person voting, and for Absentee by Mail in all 100 counties - what size ballots will we be using?  14", 17" or 19"?  Will we be able to get enough of the right paper to use for printing ballots?  When will the Absentee By Mail ballot styles be settled on and distributed around to the counties so they can start sending them out to voters?   

Also it appears SBOE will follow our recommendations to canvas all votes before tallying second round. Meaning that we won't be starting to count the IRV votes until all the Absentee By Mail and Provisional Ballots are counted. 

There is simply no way to do IRV in NC that doesn't in some way break other NC and Federal election laws.   This is something that NC Rep. Paul Luebke and others who claim that IRV is as easy to use as 1-2-3 ought to have thought about back in 2005-2006 when they pushed this through the General Assembly. 

And to be honest and fair - this is something that ALL the Legislators should have thought about.  I mean - COME ON! - what were you thinking by not questioning or pulling the section mandating IRV judicial elections in the same bill where you created IRV pilots to test the concept?  Didn't it ever occur to you that we could statewide IRV elections before we had piloted them in smaller elections?  Perhaps some of our legislators need to eat more fish to increase their critical thinking skills?  Or perhaps they just shouldn't trust everything that non-profit groups push across their desks?

Friday, September 3, 2010

There's only one way that IRV reflects NC - ONLY ONE WAY!

It's gonna be a 13-way ClusterF@#K to the Court of Appeals (Wynn seat)!  Got a little something cleared up from my last posting - there are now three UNA candidates for this seat. 

John F. Bloss

J. Wesley Casteen

Chris Dillon

Jewel Ann Farlow

Daniel E. Garner

Stan Hammer

Mark E. Klass

Doug McCullough 

Anne Middleton 


Harry E. Payne, Jr 

John Sullivan

Cressie Thigpen
Pamela Vesper
Let's look at some stats:

D - 6 - 46.1% (Dems are 44.82% of NC voters)
R - 4 - 30.8% (Repubs are 31.59% of NC voters)
UNA- 3 - 23.1% (UNAs are 23.45% of NC voters)
So this is the only way that IRV reflect the make-up of our state. 

But are people registered as UNA because we don't have a political party that reflects their personal beliefs, or because they have a job where they need to be non-partisan, or because they just don't care? So perhaps this is one way that IRV just doesn't really matter? 

Men -10
Women -3
% of women in NC in 2009 - 51%,
% of women in the Court of Appeals race - 23.1%

White - 12 - 92.3%
Black - 1 - 7.7%
Hispanic - 0
Black/African Americans make up 21.6% of the population