petition to oppose IRV in NC

There is a petition circulating to oppose Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in North Carlina.

Restore Election Integrity in NC by opposing Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)

In 2006, North Carolina’s General Assembly approved a pilot program that allowed communities to test the use of the so-called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). IRV is a form of ranked-choice voting where voters casting a ballot to rank from one to three choices for each office in races with more than two candidates

RV advocates want IRV to be an option for the future, and are asking the General Assembly to extend and expand the IRV pilot. Many of their claims about IRV are simply not true once you look beyond the hype and the sophistry.

IRV does not ensure majority winners in one single election. The winner of our state’s single “instant runoff” contest took office with 1401 votes – less than 50% plus one vote (1512) of the 3022 votes cast. Our state’s current election equipment won’t tabulate IRV ballots, so the IRV ballots had to be tabulated by hand with workarounds that violated state election laws. And one small error in that tabulation cascaded info a recount that was done another day when the public could not observe it. In the 20 IRV elections in San Francisco held since adopting IRV, any elections going into an IRV “runoff” were won with less than a majority.

IRV only saves money if you consider nothing more than a single IRV election being cheaper than two elections (original plus runoff). While runoff elections are very rarely needed, IRV would require new & more expensive programming, additional voter education and training for poll workers and election administrators, and increased ballot printing expenditures. Candidates would need to spend time and money educating voters. We might need to purchase new voting machines. All those costs would have to be paid for even if no races ever required an instant runoff!

Although I don’t live in NC I’ve signed the petition and composed a comment explaining my reasons. Unfortunately my name no longer shows up on their list; Perhaps it is restricted to NC residents only?

See also Discussion on this petition.

Kathy Dopp takes on IRV

Kathy Dopp (1) has written a scathing criticism of instant runoff voting (aka IRV 2).

It’s a list of many criticisms but it is rooted in Dopp’s election integrity and election auditing background. IRV is a disaster from an election integrity point of view – primarily because it is not ‘summable in precincts’.

I agree with much of what she has to say. However, I find her paper to be somewhat difficult to read since the latest version frequently switches tone and voice between her voice and that of Abd ul-Rahman Lomax (who posts profusely on the election methods’ email list and the range voting message board.) [Update: 6/17/08 – see correction in comments] .

Here is Dopp’s summary:

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is a method for counting “ranked choice” ballots where each voter ranks the candidates – first choice, second choice, etc. The IRV counting process proceeds in “rounds” where the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated in each round and that candidate’s votes are reassigned to the remaining candidates using voters’ choices. IRV sounds enticing to voters who can express their preferences, but according to the new report, IRV does not solve the problems it is promoted as solving and causes significant new problems.

According to Kathy Dopp, the report’s author, “Instant runoff voting is a threat to the fairness, accuracy, timeliness, and economy of U.S. elections. The U.S. needs to solve its existing voting system problems and then carefully consider the options before adopting new voting methods.”

The full report “Realities Mar Instant Runoff Voting – 17 Flaws and 3 Benefits” is found on-line at

One main point I disagree with her about:

The National Election Data Archive recommends restoring verifiable integrity to elections first before implementing alternative voting methods.

There are many problems and issues with our election system.

They include integrity, election methods, gerrymandering, representation via districts vs other options, the electoral college, voting on Tuesdays rather then more accessible times.

In my view, getting rid of lousy election methods is pretty important.
(aside: a very loosy-goosy attempt to compare the importance of various reforms (+ discussion))


supreme court rules on Indiana Voter ID case

I’ve mostly stayed quiet on this issue but it is newsworthy.

The Supreme Court just ruled on the Indiana Voter Id case
(Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) in support of
allowing states to issue stricter voter id laws.

Rick Hansen gives his initial thoughts at the Election Law Blog:

Today’s much anticipated decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is a significant win for those who support stricter voter identification laws, even if they support such laws for partisan purposes. It will encourage further litigation, because it relegates challenges to laws imposing onerous burdens on a small group of voters to “as applied” challenges, but those challenges will be difficult to win. The lack of a majority opinion, moreover, injects some uncertainty into the appropriate standard for reviewing other challenges to onerous election laws.

I am disappointed by how cursory that opinion was in its review of the state’s interest in light of the highly partisan atmosphere of election administration, and I fear that, despite the Stevens-Kennedy-Roberts’ opinion’s best intentions, this opinion will be read as a green light for the enactment of more partisan election laws in an attempt to skew outcomes in close elections.

I’m personally a bit conflicted on voter ID requirement laws. Opponents (1 2) of these sorts of laws argue that they are effectively poll taxes, that there is very little evidence of significant fraud by voters that they would help prevent (as contrasted with election fraud by election system insiders) and that the motivation for these laws is a partisan push to discourage voters from classes of people that lean to the Democratic party.

Despite these arguments, it seems very reasonable to me for our election system to have means to prevent or detect fraud attempts by voters. Intuitively a voter id requirement does not sound very burdensome. The question for me becomes not “Can / Should Voter ID requirements be enacted?” but rather “How can Voter ID requirements be implemented in a fair, non-partisan way that will not effectively result in partisan voter suppression?” I don’t have answers except for suggesting that laws like this not phase in for ~10 years so that the negative impacts can be minimized and partisan effects be less predictable.

Dan Wallach at Freedom To Tinker has a couple of very thoughtful posts on the topic:

  • How can we require ID for voters?

    he real issue is making sure that all people who might want to vote actually have IDs, which is a real problem for the apparently non-trivial number of current voters who lack normal ID cards (and, who we are led to believe, tend to vote in favor of Democrats).

    The question then becomes how to get IDs for everybody.

    The only way I could imagine a voter ID requirement being workable (i.e., having a neutral effect on partisan elections) is if there was a serious amount of money budgeted to help people without IDs to get them. That boils down to an army of social workers digging around for historical birth records and whatever else, and that’s not going to be cheap. However, I’m perfectly willing to accept a mandatory voter ID, as long as enough money is there to get one, for free, for anybody who wants one. The government is willing to give you a $40 coupon to receive digital signals for an analog TV, as part of next year’s phase-out of analog broadcasts. Why not help out with getting identification papers as part of phasing in an ID requirement?

  • voting ID requirements and the Supreme Court

    In the end, the court found that the requirement wasn’t particularly onerous (the New York Times’s article is as good as any for a basic summary, or go straight to the ruling).

    The big technical question, of course, is whether the root desires behind the voter ID requirement can be addressed in some more effective fashion than ID requirement. What are those root desires?

What’s Easier to Rig—the U.S. Presidential Elections or a Slot Machine?

From Discover magazine’s blog:

What’s Easier to Rig—the U.S. Presidential Elections or a Slot Machine?

Steve Freeman, a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the vulnerabilities of the two in his book, with some pretty alarming results. Among the problems he found:

–Unpredictable voting machine software is kept secret, while gambling software must be kept on file with the state.

–State inspectors randomly inspect gambling machines to ensure their software and computer chips haven’t been tinkered with. Voting machines don’t need to be checked, and no one knows what’s in them anyways.

When will we have a transparent verifiable election system?

going storage neutral

Ed Felton’s excellent post An Inconvenient Truth About Privacy has inspired me to go storage neutral as well. We’ll see how long I can last – I’m guessing that I will tire of it quickly. Probably by tomorrow it will feel like a stale joke.

One of the lessons we’ve learned from Al Gore is that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. We all like to tool around in our SUVs, but too much driving leads to global warning. We must all take responsibility for our own carbon emissions.

The same goes for online privacy, except that there the problem is storage rather than carbon emissions. We all want more and bigger hard drives, but what is going to be stored on those drives? Information, probably relating to other people. The equation is simple: more storage equals more privacy invasion.

That’s why I have pledged to maintain a storage-neutral lifestyle. From now on, whenever I buy a new hard drive, I’ll either delete the same amount of old information, or I’ll purchase a storage offset from someone else who has extra data to delete. By bidding up the cost of storage offsets, I’ll help create a market for storage conservation, without the inconvenience of changing my storage-intensive lifestyle.

Follow up to Sacramento central tallying

The SacBee gives us some follow-up information to the decision to tally votes centrally in Sacramento:

mproper maintenance of some of Sacramento County’s voting machines – and the tint of the Feb. 5 ballots – were to blame for malfunctions that sidelined vote-counting scanners and delayed results of last month’s presidential primary, according to the county’s top election official.

The problems have been corrected and the scanners are expected to be used in the June election, Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said in a report to the county Board of Supervisors.

Because of the malfunction, all ballots had to be counted in the election department’s central command in south Sacramento – instead of some being processed as usual at the precincts.

During its investigation, the county said that the vendor that supplies and maintains the scanners, Elections Systems & Software, conducted improper recalibration and preventive maintenance on the machines in December.

My take:

  • I’m glad to see that there was some sort of quality testing that occurred so that problems were noticed.
  • I’m surprised that the issues were universal at all precincts. For a problem of that scale you would expect that someone (ES&S – the vendor?) would be contractually responsible for their mistakes.
  • I’m not very comfortable with the resolution which was to use central tabulation. Central tabulation requires that there are observers of the counting and a strong chain of custody for the ballots. Precinct level counting is more robust in this regard. Perhaps a fall-back to manual precinct level counting might have been better.

shenanigans in Chicago

From the Chicago Methods Reporter comes this story about poorly trained election administrators and misapplied overrides. One of the affected voters writes:

“Jim and I went to vote at 7 a.m. We were given Democratic ballots and pens. But when I got to the booth, my pen didn’t work — it was like a felt-tip marker with no ink. So I went back to the desk and was told — along with several other confused voters trying to swap out their nonfunctional pens — that these were “invisible ink” pens that would not leave marks on the ballot but would absolutely be read by the scanners.

Except that they weren’t. The optical scanners were spitting out ballots until one of the election judges used a key to override the system and get the ballots into the box. After my ballot was rejected once, I got a confirmation that my vote “counted” (when the number on the ballot box blipped from 19 to 20), but Jim was given a regular ballpoint to fill in his, and it counted right away.”

The voter made enough of a fuss that they managed to get the precinct to try to “make good”. They did this by contacting the first 20 voters at that location and inviting them to re-vote.

The Chicago Tribune covers this too.

(Aside: There are voting systems that really do use special pens. For example the soon-to-be publicly described Scantegrity II system uses invisible ink on part of the ballot that is only visible when highlighted.)

the case for the electoral college

I found an interesting article that purports to present the pros and cons of the Electoral College System. As I read this article it heavily favors having the electoral college.

It gives these reasons to prefer the electoral college to a national popular vote:

Continue reading

VVSG Open Forum

Rick Carback of punchscan has asked me to help publicize a project of his.

He describes it here as a discussion board-like setting for discussing the latest VVSG Draft.:

This week I started disseminating news of my latest project, the VVSG-OF. The idea is to provide a discussion board-like setting for discussing the latest VVSG Draft. The hope is that, through open discussion, a few new ideas might come up that would not otherwise happen in the short times available in conferences on the document.

This is not to be confused with EAC’s own comment tool, which is a convenient, albeit mostly one-way, avenue to express your opinions on the document. When the comment period is over in early March, I will print out all the comments and mail them to the EAC (by me on behalf of each commenter).

If you are at all interesting in the voting process and where that will be heading in the coming years, I urge you to take a look!

Continue reading

Your friendly guide to stealing an election

‘Foreign Policy’ has an interesting article on how to steal an election. It’s focused on third world autocratic regimes.

Their list of techniques is:

  • Control the process
  • Manipulate the media
  • Keep out the observers
  • Misreport results
  • Foster incompetence and chaos
  • Resort to the crude stuff

In my perception some of this applies to the US. As an example, the US media is typically very shallow in it’s investigation or coverage of election irregularities. I don’t think that the US media is controlled by those in current political power but is driven by the rules of access, expediency, and a frame of reference that assumes a two party system without any critical thought of why such a system is so persistent.

Please share your thoughts on whether any of these techniques apply in any degree to the US.