Friday, October 19, 2007

The word on instant runoffs: They work

Here’s interesting stuff from Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, the elections watchdog who has done more good work to help the public understand the impact of money on politics than anyone I know in North Carolina, not to mention his helping investigators dig up political wrongdoing and producing reliable research for legislators interested in electoral reform. In this note, Bob relates how the instant runoff experiment worked in Cary’s recent municipal election. The short story: Pretty well. Read on:

Good people,

In case you're writing about the "instant runoff voting" pilot that occurred in Cary, I would encourage you to contact Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections at 919-856-6245 and Diana Haskell, chair of the Wake Co League of Women Voters at 919-460-9215.

Poucher estimates that the Town of Cary saved about $28,000 by not having to hold a separate runoff for the District B Town Council race, where no candidate received a majority of first-choice votes in the October 9 election. The savings would have been $62,000 for a citywide runoff.

Normally, there is a large drop-off in voter turnout from the first election to the runoff a month or so later. However, by using preference voting, the drop-off in that District B race was only 9% -- i.e., 91% or 2,754 voters of the 3,022 voters who cast a ballot in the District B race expressed a clear choice between the final two candidates through their rankings, and their preferences produced the winner: Don Frantz got 1,401 votes compared to Vickie Maxwell's 1,353.

With preference voting, more voters participated in deciding the final winner, at less expense for everybody (candidates, voters, and taxpapers). Of course, we still need more citizens to vote in NC, but this method is at least better than having a tiny minority of a minority make the final decision.

The Exit Poll conducted in Cary showed that the ballot was easily understood by most voters and that ranking candidates was preferred to voting for just one candidate. Below is a summary of the findings from the Exit Poll.

Bob Hall
Democracy North Carolina
Direct line: 919-489-1931

* * *

Dr. Michael Cobb, NC State University: 919/513-3709 or

Study Finds Cary Voters Prefer Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV)

Cary voters prefer ranking candidates rather than voting for only one candidate.

That’s the finding of a survey on voter preferences taken after the Oct. 9 Cary town council elections in which instant run-off voting (IRV) was utilized. IRV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference, eliminating the need for a separate run-off election.

North Carolina State University’s Dr. Michael Cobb, assistant professor of political science, designed an exit poll to evaluate how voters felt about IRV. The exit poll, managed by Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, contained interviews with more than 1,600 voters from Cary Town Council Districts B and D.

Instant run-off voting affected the election in Council District B by generating a winner, thereby avoiding the need to hold a run-off election next month between the top two vote getters.

Key findings of the survey include:

· Of those with a preference, 72 percent of Cary voters said they preferred IRV while just 28 percent said they preferred voting for a single candidate.

· Almost everyone (96 percent) reported it was at least “somewhat easy to understand” the IRV ballot, with 82 percent agreeing that it was “very easy” to understand.

· Most voters (69 percent) actually utilized the option of ranking at least two of the candidates for city council.

· Among the minority of voters who did not rank more than one candidate and gave a reason why (480), only 29 percent (139) said the reason for not indicating a second choice was that they were confused about how the rankings would be used. [This is a minority of a minority: In other words, 9 percent of all voters (139 of 1635) indicated by their responses that the primary reason they did not rank more than one candidate in any race was because they misunderstood or did not understand how the ranking worked.]

· Voters were more likely to rank candidates in District B, which was the most competitive race where all three candidates failed to win an outright majority; voters in District B were more likely to prefer IRV.

· The study found no significant differences between different types of voters in their understanding or preference for IRV: whites and non-whites, males and females, lower and higher income voters all evaluated IRV roughly equally.

· Outreach efforts to inform voters ahead of time about IRV were largely successful. Seventy-six percent said they knew they would be asked to rank their preferences before coming to vote that day, and those who reported knowing about IRV in advance were more likely to rank more than one candidate and to prefer ranking candidates over voting for only one candidate.


David McKnight said...

There is a political and constitutional fallacy involved in instant runoffs:

A voter is not obliged to vote for the same candidate twice in a row--or in twso successive primaries--if upon continuing evaluation of a candidate's campaign a subsequent decision is made by the voter to support another candidate.

Furthermore, a voter might vote for Candidate A as paired against Candidate B in a theoretical runoff, but the same voter might opt to vote for Candidate C over Candidate A in a different runoff pairing.

Just what is the financial value to be placed on an unconstitutional balloting procedure detour in terms of election-operations revenue?

Anonymous said...

well looks like JUDGE ORR got dismissed again for JOB INCENTIVES; Looks like he needs to go to LAW SCHOOL and get some tips about his own court room; Looks like ART POPEs money isnt cutting it .

Anonymous said...

Art Pope should use his money to buy the Governorship and hand it to the Republicans like Florida did during the Bush OO years; Now Bush has got us on the cliff edge of the Great Depression. Countrywide Mortgage is in huge trouble spells great depression over the NATION; Everybody will forget all about HERBERT HOOVER in the history books.

Anonymous said...

Jack, the study said there wasn't much difference between whites and non whites.

But what it didn't say is that Cary has a very highly educated populace, high percent of internet connected, and is mostly white.

Hendersonville is a retirement community and also white demographics.

All wasn't as rosy as IRV supporters say, either, as some seasoned voters expressed dislike of the process. Of course with the proponents using the elementary school type bullying - IRV is as easy as 1=2=3, any opposition could be easily intimidated into keeping quiet.

The Cary town council refused to allow the public to have a hearing before the council volunteered the city for IRV. Changing how elections are held - without the public's input, is subversive.

Other cities where public comment was invited - ended up not having IRV.

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