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?

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