I knew it was coming – calls for IRV in statewide NC races!

Note: Sorry for the formatting below but this is how it came out. C. Dancy II – DCN Publisher


My name is Chris Telesca and I am the coordinator for Wake County
Verified Voting, a election integrity advocacy group based in Wake
County, NC. I am very interested in making sure that reporters like you
get another perspective on IRV – from someone who has heard all the
pro-IRV advocacy that you have heard, but who actually lived through IRV
in 2007. I observed the 2007 IRV pilot program being pushed in Raleigh
in March and April 2007, and I was successful in getting Raleigh to pass
on IRV.

After IRV advocates sort of snuck IRV through in Cary in May 2007, I
closely observed the IRV pilot program as it was being implemented in my
county. It left much to be desired, especially in transparency. Much of
the 2007 Cary pilot was done under the table and off the books by IRV
advocacy groups like DemocracyNC and FairVote that it is impossible to
know the exact cost of IRV in Wake County. But the actual counting of
the votes was totally messed up!

I observed the IRV tabulation in October 2007 along with several other
people – almost all of whom walked away wondering why we would ever
knowingly want to use such a method in the first place, and who pretty
much decided it wasn’t worth using again. That includes Town Council
member Julie Robison, who while she supported using IRV in May 2007,
wasn’t supporting IRV after seeing the tabulation.

Former NC Center for Voter Education member Don Hyatt and I were both
present at the end of the tabulation and we noticed some inconsistencies
with the count. We co-wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Cary News that you can
find in the blog I created to help preserve election integrity in NC by
opposing IRV:

Below is my most recent blog posting about the inevitable call for IRV
in NC because of the low-turnout statewide runoff for the Democratic US
Senate race:


The article is listed below – I hope you will read it and realize that
there is information out there from sources besides FairVote that shows
that IRV isn’t the best solution for expensive low-turnout runoffs or
increasing voter turnout. IRV could be worse than what we have now!

Chris Telesca
Wake County Verified Voting

As soon as I knew that there would be a runoff in the Democratic Primary
for US Senate, I knew that various people would be calling for Instant
Runoff Voting. Here is one of those claims – from Damon Circosta of the
NC Center for Voter Education:


    High Cost, Low Turnout Likely for Runoff Elections

    By Damon Circosta
    Published: June 14, 2010

    RALEIGH – Most people don’t equate summer with election season. When
    one conjures up visions of voting the images are typically of a
    crisp autumn day. Or perhaps for primary voters Election Day might
    involve sprouting trees and the blooms of a North Carolina spring.

    Summer, for both voters and politicians, is usually a quiet time.
    The public’s attention is on other things like vacation plans and
    kids camps. Candidates are usually out of the spotlight and quietly
    amassing resources for the fall campaign.

    But every so often, election season extends into the dog days of summer.

    This year, for many voters across the state, there is an opportunity
    to engage in democracy. But with so much else on the minds of the
    electorate, most of us won’t be braving the heat to head to the polls.

Really – summer is not a season for elections? Who says so? We have
always known that runoffs occur after an election. Knowing that
elections require a runoff vote – why should this be a surprise for an
informed electorate? Or for someone who works for the Center For Voter

Shouldn’t the "Center For Voter Education" be among the chief
drum-beaters trying to get people out to vote, instead of lamenting why
people aren’t getting out to vote – thus creating a self-fulfilling

    North Carolina law provides for a runoff to be held if no candidate
    achieves more than 40 percent of the vote in a primary election. In
    the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, as well as in Republican
    primary contests for congressional districts 8, 12 and 13, no clear
    winner prevailed. These races are headed for a June 22 runoff
    election between the top two candidates.

When the threshold used to be higher, we had more runoffs, and higher
turnout for those runoffs. When we lowered the threshold, we didn’t need
as many runoffs, and we ended up having lower turnout for the runoffs we

Perhaps the remedy for low-turnout runoff elections is not to lower the
threshold but to raise it?

    Turnout projections are exceedingly low for these runoffs. In a
    state with about 6 million registered voters, fewer than 100,000
    will likely show up to the polls. Nevertheless, the expense of
    holding a statewide election remains relatively constant. It doesn’t
    matter if two people or 2,000 people show up at a precinct. It must
    be opened and staffed all day.

While it is correct that there are over 6 million registered voters in
NC, there are not that many registered Democrats who could vote in the
runoff. According to the NC State Board of Elections as of 11:40PM on
June 20, 2010, there are only 2,750,763 registered Democrats who could
vote in the Statewide Primary for US Senate in the Democratic Primary.

Unaffiliated voters could vote in either the Democratic or Republican
ballot in the May primary, they would have to vote the same ballot in
the runoff election. I am not sure how many of the state’s 1,410,324 UNA
voters voted the Democratic ballot in May and thus would be eligible to
vote in the June runoff.

    In the Democratic Senate primary, some people expressed concern when
    Cal Cunningham, the second-place finisher, called for a runoff.
    Citing concerns about the $5 million expense of holding a statewide
    election and doubts about his ability to overcome frontrunner Elaine
    Marshall, these critics said it was an irresponsible move. While
    reasonable people may disagree about his prospects, it sets a
    dangerous precedent when we ask candidates to bow out of elections
    to spare the state the expense.

While I agree that some people expressed concern that Cal ran, it was
his right under the law to call for a runoff because he was the
second-place finisher and the first-place finisher didn’t cross the

    Administering elections can be a costly enterprise. Accessible polls
    and accurately counted votes require resources. While everyone likes
    to see our government operate as cost-effectively as possible,
    scrimping on the very mechanism we use to hold our government
    accountable doesn’t make sense.

    There are ways to achieve more citizen input in a less costly manner
    than holding a second primary election. Some municipalities in North
    Carolina and other states have experimented with something called
    instant runoff voting.

And I agree that it sets a dangerous precedent when we ask candidates to
bow out of a runoff election to spare the state the expense. But I don’t
agree that we should endanger election integrity and public confidence
in elections in our state by experimenting further with Instant Runoff

Yes – some municipalities have experimented with IRV. Some do not like
it. Cary and Hendersonville tried it in 2007. Cary had the state’s only
election where IRV was used to count voter’s second and third choices
when no one won the election on the first choice alone. The Wake County
Board of Elections couldn’t follow the complicated hand sort/stack and
counting procedures, and made some calculator errors that necessitated a
secret count the next day with no outside observers or candidates knew
about or attended. That secret count found some votes that had been
missed the previous day. And out of the original 3022 first column
votes, the winner of that race got 1401 votes – 111 votes short of the
1512 votes he would have needed to win in the first column of votes.


After the 2007 experiment, the Cary Town Council didn’t want to be a lab
rat again and refused to participate in the IRV pilot in 2009.

Hendersonville tried it in 2007 and 2009, but had winners using just the
first column votes. They never needed to count the additional voter
choices, and it is doubtful that Henderson County BOE could have
accomplished that task using their DRE touchscreen voting machines in
accordance with state and federal election laws and regulations.

That’s because the voting equipment we use in North Carolina is not
certified to tabulate IRV ballots. That’s why all the IRV experiments
have either used complicated and confusing hand-counting methods like in
Cary, or hybrid and jury-rigged counting methods proposed for DRE
machines that involve somehow porting voting data over to Excel
Spreadsheets, where the tabulation will be done all by machine with
little to no possibility for outside observers to verify the tabulations.

    The idea is that during the first primary election, voters are
    offered the opportunity to select whom they would vote for if there
    were to be a runoff. It’s not perfect and would require spending
    some money to make sure that the instant runoff system was accurate
    and secure. But such a system could save money in the long run and
    also make voting more convenient, hopefully increasing turnout.

Studies done by legislatures that take their responsibilities seriously
(as our NC legislator fail to do when it comes to IRV) and real world
experiences of places like Pierce County, WA and even Minneapolis MN
have shown that IRV does not save money – it actually costs more money.

The MD legislature performed fiscal studies on IRV in 2006 and 2008, and
costs per registered voter in MD ranged from an additional $3.08 to
$3.50 per registered voter to implement IRV, and an extra $0.48 per
registered voter for voter education each and every year there was an
election. Applying those very reasonable costs to our state’s 6 million
voters – it would cost between $18 to $20 MILLION to implement IRV right
up front and $3 million each and every year for voter education. Using
those costs, we’d never break even with IRV even if we needed a
statewide runoff every two years!

Pierce County WA found their costs DOUBLED using IRV. And 2 out of 3 of
their IRV races didn’t have a true majority. They dumped IRV after 1 try!

IRV cost Minneapolis voters more: a primary and general election in 2005
was $1.12 million (adjusted 2009 dollars) vs. $1.46 million for one
single IRV election held in 2009. Furthermore, Minneapolis found that
turnout for their first IRV election was the lowest since 1902 – in over
100 years!


IRV has been used in San Francisco since 2004, and costs have gone up
while turnout has gone down!

And another problem with continued calls for using IRV in NC is that our
own State Board of Elections stated in 2007 (before the first
communities decided to use IRV) was that IRV was too risky to use for
statewide primary elections (like in 2008 and 2010) because it would
violate state and federal election laws.
There simply were no certified voting systems (machines and software)
that was federally certified to do IRV elections in 2008 – nor in 2010.


Under the system used for certifying voting systems, the voting system
companies have to get the whole system tested – not just the machines
and software, but even the documentation and the manual procedures.
Companies have to submit the whole system for federal certification
which they have to pay for. And since there are many different IRV vote
counting methods and each is much more complicated than single-column
elections, few (if any) companies want to foot the bill. So should we
lower our standards for claims of savings and increased turnout that
haven’t materialized in the experiments done so far?

That’s the experimental side – the IRV pilot program in NC. It was
originally supposed to run from 2007 through 2009 (inclusive) where only
two communities used it in 2007 – but 4 communities voted "no" on IRV:
Asheville, Atlantic Beach, Raleigh and Rocky Mount.

So even though no one could use IRV in 2008 because it was deemed "too
risky", some of the same advocacy groups pushing IRV now came out right
after the June 2008 Democratic Labor Commissioner Runoff to call for
extending the IRV pilot – citing mainly the need to save money. They got
the pilot program extended until 2011, but only one community –
Hendersonville where they never really put IRV to the full test – used
it in 2009.

Where IRV was mandated as an election method that must be used, it has
also fallen short on promises. IRV was dumped in Burlington, VT by a
larger majority and a larger turnout of voters than in the referendum
that voted to use IRV. 67% of Pierce County WA voters voted to dump IRV
after only one try. Aspen CO voters gave IRV a no–confidence vote after
only one try, and now the Aspen DA is investigating whether or not the
IRV election violated state election laws.

    Short of implementing instant runoff voting, there are other changes
    we could make, such as rethinking the requirement that a candidate
    must get 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Our election
    system is not set in stone. Using the democratic process, we are
    free to alter the system to make it more effective.

Not really sure that lowering the threshold is the right way to go,
since turnout has only gone down in runoffs since the threshold has been
lowered. Perhaps set a sliding threshold based on where the top vote
getter placed compared with where the second-place finisher did – and
factoring in how many other candidates there were? And not sure we want
to say that it’s more effective to us a confusing and complex vote
counting method that we claim saves money but really doesn’t?

    The fraction of registered voters who will carve out some time on
    June 22 to vote, or who cast a ballot using the early voting system,
    hold a considerable amount of sway in this election. It’s time to
    consider ways of changing the election process so more of us will
    get involved.

Yes it is true that we need to get more people involved. So let’s raise
the thereshold for winning a primary election, so that more elections go
to runoff and we get more bang for our runoff buck!

And by all means, let’s not have our local Boards of Elections do things
to discourage people from voting. They should be encouraging people to
wait in line to be the first to vote like people wait in line to buy
concert tickets – instead of trying to run people off!

But we in North Carolina are fortunate in many ways that our election
administration systems are better than in many other states. After
passage of the Public Confidence in Elections Act in 2005, NC was ranked
#1 in election audit accuracy in 2006 by the non-profit Brennan Center.
The same group ranked NC as being one of the 8 states best able to run
the 2008 general election. Election integrity advocates have worked hard
to get NC where we are today, and we have to be vigilant to make sure
that we know enough about so-called "electoral reforms" like IRV before
we decide whether or not we want to implement them.

North Carolina has better elections than South Carolina. SC has open
primaries (where you can cross party lines and vote for candidates in
other parties even if you are not an Unaffiliated voter). Their
elections are run on paperless DRE touchscreen machines that were
decertified for us in other states. They can’t even tell whether or not
there was any election fraud in their Democratic US Senate primary,
because to check for fraud in that one race might challenge the
integrity of ALL SC elections. Those same machines are used in the SC
general election – including for US President – so how could we possibly
trust them to correctly record and count any election. And add to that
mess the fact that some folks are pushing for National Popular Vote for
President to abolish the Electoral College and you can see why we
shouldn’t be pushing for ANYTHING that will further complicate election
Posted by Chris Telesca at 11:29 PM

See related:

Instant Run Off Voting

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