Friday, October 1, 2010

More lies about IRV in NC - this time in the New Republic!

Here's a hint - if you want to make sure Florida 2000 never happens again - don't use IRV!

Nicholas Stephanopoulos
October 1, 2010 - 12:00AM
The memory is still enough to give Democrats the shakes: In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida (and thus the presidency) even though 50.5 percent of the state’s votes were cast for Al Gore or Ralph Nader. Bush won, in other words, despite the fact that an outright majority of voters preferred somebody else. In a two-way Bush-Gore race, there is virtually no doubt that Gore would have prevailed: The 100,000 or so votes that Nader received would have gone heavily to Gore, handing him the presidency.

Bush claimed the Sunshine State because, by law, the candidate who gets a plurality of votes there wins, even if no one gets a majority. This is the election norm in most jurisdictions across the country—but it borders on the undemocratic. As in Florida, it can allow a candidate preferred by a majority of voters to lose a race. It also ignores the reality that voters often have opinions of all the candidates running; they have a top pick, sure, but they may also prefer a second candidate to a third.
The author is ignoring the fact that it just wasn't Nader's presence on the ballot and his 100K votes that cost Gore the election. It was:
  • hanging chads in punch card voting systems
  • the poorly laid-out butterfly ballots that had older Jewish folks in Palm Beach (who typically vote Democratic) vote for Pat Buchanan
  • haphazard election administration system with vote counting methods that varied across the state
  • deliberate voter caging in Democratic districts
  • deliberate lack of maintenance of machines in select districts
  • deliberate failure to provide enough working voting machines in Democratic districts
  • conflict of interest by an elected Secretary of State who was also active in the Bush Campaign
A solution to this dilemma is what’s known as instant-runoff voting (IRV). Under IRV, voters are able to rank their choices on their ballots (for example, Nader first, Gore second, and Bush third). If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest such votes is eliminated. The second-place votes of the people who ranked the eliminated candidate first are then allocated to the remaining candidates. The process repeats until someone gets an outright majority. In other words, all three candidates still could have run in Florida, but Gore, not Bush, would have won the election.
IRV is no solution to this dilemma if you still have the election administration (vote counting and voter registration) problems in places like Florida). IRV is more confusing for voters and more complex and expensive to administer than simple single-column elections. And do you really think that an statewide IRV election would be easy to count with three columns on butterfly ballots and handing chads where you couldn't determine the voter intent on ONE column? Please - get real!

But it’s not just the specter of 2000 that makes IRV so appealing. It’s also a fair and straightforward system that could alleviate a number of the problems plaguing U.S. elections.

There is nothing straightforward about IRV - it will make the casting of votes more confusing for voters and counting of ballots more complex for election administrators and less transparent for observers - therefore the process will do more to erode not build up public confidence in elections.
Ten years ago, IRV didn’t exist anywhere in the United States. In the past decade, though, 16 cities and one state (North Carolina) have embraced it. Two courts, in California and Minnesota,  have recently rejected a series of challenges to it. (And abroad, the Brits are planning a May 2011 referendum to decide whether to elect the entire House of Commons using IRV. The Australians and Irish, meanwhile, have had it for the better part of a century).
North Carolina has not embraced IRV.  We only had a pilot program in two communities in 2007 and in one community in 2009.  The only community to use IRV to tabulate votes beyond the 1st round in our entire state in 2007 chose not to be a guinea pig in 2009 - they dumped it!

As the Chair of our State Board of Elections stated in an SBOE meeting the other day, the legislature forced IRV down our throats without providing any money to properly administer IRV elections. It's an unfunded mandate from the NC General Assembly.
Why the recent flare of interest in IRV? 
It's not that recent - FairVote has been pushing this turkey since 1992 when they were founded to promote proportional representation.  What's behind the interest is most likely lots and lots of money from tax-exempt foundations given to non-profit groups like FairVote.  What's behind the motivations of the foundation board members is beyond me!
The system’s core appeal is that it promotes majority rule. No one can triumph with, say, 25 percent of the vote—as occurred in North Carolina in 2004, prompting its switch to IRV.
The author has it wrong - NC isn't switching to IRV.  After the 8-way NC Supreme Court election, the Legislature got tricked into using it for judicial elections under special circumstances.  When the law was finally passed in 2006, the state did NOTHING for 4 years to get ready for the very real possibility of statewide IRV.  Then when Judge Wynn accepted an appointment to the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, we got statewide IRV shoved down our throats. 

We are not ready for it. Our voting machines won't count all the votes at the precinct polling places nor will they provide over-vote notification as required by both state and federal election law. Our state doesn't even have procedures in place for transparent and verifiable tabulation of the votes and early voting starts on October 14th!

IRV does not promote majority rule because IRV does not really deliver majority winners - IRV just delivers winners with slightly larger plurality winners. In all of San Francisco's IRV elections, no one who won office without votes being allocated from other columns won a real 50% plus one vote majority.

NC had one pilot IRV election in 2007 which used the IRV method to determine a winner. Out of the original 3022 1st column votes cast, a winner would need 1512 first-round votes to win. Since no one hit that in the first column, the 2nd and 3rd column votes were counted. The winner was declared with only 1401 votes - hardly a majority. In over 95% of IRV races in our country, the winner was the same candidate who won the 1st round. So why go to all the time and trouble and expense for the ILLUSION of a majority winner?
But there are more good reasons why IRV would be an improvement over the status quo. For starters, it eliminates third-party “spoilers.” According to recent reports, Republicans have been recruiting homeless people in Arizona to run on the Green Party ticket, hoping to siphon off Democratic votes and propel their own candidates to narrow plurality victories. Such ploys would be pointless under IRV, since the votes of Green Party supporters (who tend to be liberal) would most likely end up being allocated to the Democrats anyway.
The author is making generalizations about which other party candidates Green or Libertarian voters would vote for because they knew their guys didn't stand a chance in hell of winning. The author also assumes that a significant number of voters would fully rank all available choices, and that the machines would actually record the votes as the voters cast them. That's several big assumptions that the author is not providing enough evidence to support.
IRV would also squash the anxiety many people feel about voting for third-party candidates. In 2000, for instance, Nader’s fans wouldn’t have had to worry that, by voting for their hero, they might land Bush in office. Since their second-place nods would have gone to Gore, they could have voted their conscience and gone to sleep easy. (It’s for precisely this reason that the Liberal Democrats in Britain made a referendum on IRV their price for joining the Tories’ coalition. The Lib Dems don’t want their supporters to keep having to choose between following their hearts and voting for the lesser of two evils.)
Look - either third parties are "spoilers" or they offer people a real alternative choice to the two main parties. You can't have it both ways! Turns out, IRV doesn't really help third party candidates unless those so-called third parties actually won elections without the use of IRV - like the Progressive candidates in Burlington VT, who have been winning elections since Bernie Sanders.
Another benefit of IRV is that it tends to discourage vitriolic campaign rhetoric. Granted, elections will always include argument and criticism. But, when voters are able to rank their choices, harsh attacks can backfire because supporters of the assailed candidates may then list the attackers lower on their ballots. So, under IRV, candidates often try to get along, at least publicly. In San Francisco, for example, negative ads funded by independent groups have declined significantly since the city adopted IRV in 2002. Instead, candidates have complimented one another and even held joint fundraisers.
Actually the lack of vitriol and real choices might drive turnout DOWN - as happened in the 2009 Minneapolis RCV election.

IRV doesn't discourage negative campaigning and vitriol - it just drives it underground like in San Francisco. However, the recent Burlington VT campaign - the last to use IRV before the city repealed it - was full of vitriol. Here in NC, the 2007 Cary IRV race ran off half the candidates in a 4-way race for a Town Council seat. Two of them just quit the race and endorsed the incumbent candidate (who was an incumbent because he had been appointed to fill a vacancy). IRV scared away the competition!
Under the right circumstances, IRV can also help moderate politicians prevail over extremists. To get this result, a single IRV election needs to be held in place of both the primary and general elections, with voters going to the polls only once and ranking their favorites among all the candidates from all the parties. In this case, the parties’ bases are no longer able to dictate who the nominees will be, and it is the entire (more centrist) electorate that decides the winner. For instance, in Washington, which employs a related “top-two primary” system, the Tea Party has effectively been thwarted. A few months ago, California copied Washington’s approach, with the aim of moderating its famously polarized politics.
Replacing both a primary and a general election with IRV robs political parties the chance to volunteer for one or the other candidate in the primary election, then get together and volunteer for the party nominee in the general election to provide voters in the general election more distinct choices to vote for. And don't you worry about the Tea Party - they've been hijacked by GOP power brokers much in the same way they have run Green Party "ringers". But even still - many Tea Party candidates have made good use of the primary process to offer voters a real distinction between their candidates and those of the mainstream GOP. The same goes for more progressive Democratic candidates who have challenged the DLC/DINO-Dem establishment.

Sometimes a little partisanship goes a long way - but IRV discourages it and blurs differences between candidates - lessening real choice!
Unsurprisingly, IRV has its critics, most of whom are Republicans. Some of their resistance probably stems from the fact that Bush never would have made it to the White House if Florida had used IRV in 2000. Republicans may also believe that they benefit from the status quo since, in recent years, there have been stronger third-party candidates on the left, like Nader. (But even if this view used to be accurate, the recent rise of the Tea Party means it probably isn’t anymore.)
IRV has many critics who are Democrats and UNA voters who can think for themselves and see that IRV math doesn't work out. They don't buy the BS that "if you're a progressive or a liberal, then you HAVE to like IRV!"

But IRV couldn't have been used in Florida in 2000 because the final vote total is cumulative - and the courts prevented all the first column votes from being counted properly. Do you really think that the solution to Florida's problem would be IRV with even more hanging chads and butterfly ballots?
On the actual merits, opponents often argue that IRV violates the principle of one-person, one-vote. Several courts, however, have rejected this claim and let IRV stand, reasoning that, because every person has the same ability to rank candidates, and every ballot is counted under the same rules, IRV is not unfair. Skeptics have also said that people will find the system confusing and be deterred from voting. But exit polls in cities using IRV show that 86 percent to 95 percent of voters understand it. And turnout is relatively high in IRV elections, while the runoffs that are held in some jurisdictions when no candidate wins an initial majority draw far fewer voters. As for cost—another point critics like to harp on—IRV does require some moderate one-time expenditures, but it then produces steady savings for governments that otherwise would have to stage runoffs days or weeks after the first vote.
Boy - this law school "fellow" has really been drinking the IRV koolaid!  He's hit all the FairVote talking points on why IRV is the greatest thing since sliced white bread!

Exit polls?   Like those run by pro-IRV advocacy groups, where employees of pro-IRV advocacy groups did both voter education on the way into the ballots and then polled voters on their way out? Where one such employee admitted in writing that she deviated from her voter education instructions (in Cary in 2007) to create a better outcome for the exit poll - and faked a southern accent when interviewing voters?   Even though she faked a southern accent and deviated from her instructions, the Cary exit poll showed that 25% of Cary voters showed up at the polls not knowing in advance that they'd be expected to rank their choices.  33% of Hendersonville voters didn't know about IRV in advance either.  And in 2005 - the second year of RCV in San Francisco - nearly half the voters showed up to the polls not knowing in advance they'd be expected to rank their choices. 

IRV disenfranchises way too many voters!

Confused Voters?  RCV was confusing for Minneapolis voters - the spoiled ballot rate was over 3 times higher for 2009 than in 2005.  The Town of Cary did a survey in 2008 that showed that over 30% of voters didn't understand IRV

Turnout is relatively high? Define "relative"? Voter turnout in San Francisco is down since they started using IRV.  Voter turnout in the the 2009 Minneapolis RCV election was the lowest in over 100 years.

Cheaper elections?  Peirce County WA reported a doubling of their election costs during their single attempt at doing IRV. Minneapolis reports spending $365K more with one RCV elections in 2009 than they spent (adjusted for inflation) in 2005 for two elections (a primary and a general election). 

Other states that have considered IRV have not proceeded based on cost alone. The Maryland legislature determined that IRV would cost between $3.10 and $3.50 (not including the cost of election systems and software that did not exist at that time) and that voter education would cost a minimum of $0.48. San Francisco was spending nearly $2 per registered voter and was told even that wasn't enough. If you do an honest accounting of all election administration costs - including voter education - IRV costs more than traditional elections and rarely used runoffs.

If North Carolina tried to implement IRV on a federally certified election system (which BTW does not yet exist), it could cost us over $20 million to implement and over $4 million for voter education each and every year the method is used. At that rate, we'd never save money with IRV over using primary elections and runoffs.

There are other ways to solve the problem with low-turnout primary elections (and runoffs) as well as low-turnout general election runoffs. One solution would be to just go to straight plurality elections, since IRV does nothing but give the 1st round winner a larger plurality win.

Another solution to low-turnout runoffs is to raise the threshold to 50% plus one for all elections. Turnout in NC runoff elections is lower when there are fewer runoff contests, and turnout is higher when there are more runoff elections. Runoff elections give voters a real choice among candidates, not a simulated runoff. And runoff elections are more democratic - since in a real runoff, the 2nd place winner in the 1st round goes onto win the runoff 33% of the time. Compare that to the 95% or greater chance of the 1st round winner winning the IRV election in the end with only a slightly larger plurality win. Traditional runoff elections are much more democratic than IRV elections!

Primary elections provide a valuable service - they allow different candidates from the same party to compete for the support of all the party voters during the general election. Not having that party support actually requires more money to get a candidate's message across - not less - because you can't depend on party volunteers to do GOTV work on behalf of the party candidate (since there is none).
IRV is an idea whose time has come. Its advantages are indisputable, while the arguments against it fall flat. Cities and states across America should embrace it—and soon, so that a nightmare like Florida in 2000 never occurs again.
The author's contentions only hold water if he only considers information provided by FairVote - the nation's leading IRV advocacy organization. And he might very well only be considering the FairVote talking points.

If you look at the real-world experiences that US communities have with IRV, you will see that the advantages hold little water, and the arguments against it are compelling. In fact, if you consider the arguments against IRV and the real-world evidence supporting those arguments, you have to wonder how so many elected leaders got conned into supporting IRV. If you are elected to high office, you have to do more research than you can do by just googling websites put up by FairVote and affiliated groups.

The only way to prevent a Florida style election nightmare is to develop tough standards for verified voting like we did in North Carolina in 2004, after we had our own Florida-style election nightmare. Folks were trying to push IRV on us back then, but legislators realized that there was no way to make our elections verifiable and transparent AND implement IRV. So they dumped IRV requirements that were snuck into another bill that got forced to a vote by powerful legislators. Interestingly enough, the legislator who forced IRV on our state is silent now that the state and county boards of elections are running around at the last minute trying to make this turkey work. Election administrators freely admit they don't like IRV and can't figure out a way to make it work without violating our other state and federal election integrity laws - so they are trying to violate the fewest laws possible. That's not the kind of elections we should be striving for.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos is a fellow at Columbia Law School, where he specializes in election law.

Hmm - a "fellow" at Columbia Law School. Who is paying his fellowship in election law?  Is this the same Nicholas Stephanopoulos who blogged in the Huff Post (perhaps where Rob Richie "trolled" for him?) in the following article:

Resurrecting Bush v. Gore

To the extent Democrats think about Bush v. Gore these days, they remember it as the worst Supreme Court decision in decades -- a nakedly partisan ruling by five conservative justices hell-bent on installing George W. Bush in the White House. Bush v. Gore was all this and more, but it also recognized, for the first time, a powerful progressive principle: that all voters in a state, and all ballots they cast, should be treated equally whenever elections are held.
Interesting that he pays lip service to this principle but fails to realize IRV does not treat all voters equally.   
It was precisely because Florida's recount procedures varied dramatically by county, and thus did not treat all voters and ballots equally, that the Court ruled for Bush and ordered a halt to the vote-counting.
And this moron feels that a more complex voting method like IRV would have made the 2000 Florida election simpler?  It would have meant more and longer recounts of all the votes in all the columns!

Then he compares what happened in Florida to the Coleman-Franken recount:
Second, a judicial victory for Coleman would be a short-term setback but a longer-term win for both Democrats and the country. American elections are radically decentralized, with each state making its own rules and typically devolving a great deal of authority to counties and even towns.
Yes - he is right about this.  Our elections are radically decentralized.  Which is another reason why it's not fair to claim that IRV methods used in one community would work the same in another.  
This system gives rise to endless complexity and confusion, while also tending to disadvantage Democrats.
Yes - more complexity and confusion would tend to disadvantage Democrats - see below:
After all, it is poor, minority, and elderly communities (all of which lean Democratic) that typically have the oldest and least reliable voting machines, the longest lines, and the worst-trained election officials.
Bob Hall and Rob Richie - tell me again how IRV will make an already more complex and confusing situation  BETTER instead of WORSE?
A ruling for Coleman would have no immediate impact on these pervasive disparities, given the relative narrowness of the legal issue being decided. But it would likely make other courts more receptive to Bush v. Gore-style challenges, and fearing judicial scrutiny, state legislatures might be motivated to enact fairer and more uniform election administration policies on their own.

I can already see how a Court of Appeals race with 3 candidates for judge - all of whom are lawyers - could cause the General Assembly to change the judicial IRV law. Just hope that someone sues the hell out of the State Board of Elections (with DemocracyNC as co-defendants) before then!

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