Instant Runoff Voting Regrets in NC

IRV mumpower portal into hell

N.Carolina’s Statewide Instant Runoff Voting Contest – the facts, the regrets 48 days after the election, instant runoff voting produced a “winner” for the NC Court of Appeals, for the  “Wynn”seat. Thanks to IRV, an experimental tallying method was used, the election was almost a tie, a recount was called for, and we had a plurality result, not a majority win.

Instant Runoff – What They Don’t Tell You:  

  1. Negatively impacts election integrity, increases costs and labor for elections, makes audits and recounts more onerus. 
  2. Voters do not get 2nd chance to elect their preferred candidate.
  3. Requires an informed and educated electorate.
  4. Can cause voters to hurt their preferred candidate by voting for him/her.
  5. NC’s voting machines do not have software to tabulate IRV.
  6. IRV hurts third parties.
  7. Makes campaigning more complicated.

“IRV is not an approved function at the federal or state level of current ES&S software, firmware or hardware. Subsequently, we will work at the direction of the SBE and counties to assist but cannot be held responsible for issues as a result of IRV..”.~ letter from PrintElect to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, August 31, 2010.

Oct 28, 2010 News 14: Board of Elections decides how to count instant runoff votes …Initially the board decided it would do that by a hand-eye count. Thursday, the Board reversed that decision and decided to use a software program, something Chairman Larry Leake is against.

“I’m a lot leary about it,” Leake said.  “The computer experts acknowledge there are potential problems with the system.”

“We’ll also have no way to know if it miscounts because it’s so complex.  It’s not something that we the public can observe,” says McCloy.

“There are no provisions on ES&S equipment to tabulate IRV.” ~ Keith Long , Voting System Project Manager for the North Carolina State Board of Elections Jan 7, 2008

“We can use November 2007 as a pilot and not use IRV in May 2008 because it poses too much of a risk. May request change in legislation for retesting IRV with certified upgrades in 2009.” ~ NC State Board of Elections March 6, 2007

IRV bob joyce school of gov

 Don Frantz, the only person elected by instant runoff voting in NC speaks out Don points out that with instant runoff voting there is voter confusion, lack of confidence in the system, and often the result of IRV is a plurality “win”. Don, the  says IRV is not worth it. “To me the number one concern is election integrity. If we can’t trust the election process we’ve got, I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care what the turnout is.”

If you don’t like costly low turnout runoff elections, then don’t have them. 42 states do not hold statewide runoff electionsIRV does not provide a majority,  but awards “winners” with less than 50% of the ballots cast.  IRV does not save money,  but increases costs of elections:  Last month  Minneapolis Minnesota learned that the continuing cost of IRV/RCV is : $244,000″  ..President Barb Johnson (4th Ward), was miffed by the study. She noted that RCV’s supporters had promoted the system by saying it would draw out more voters and cost less than a traditional primary-plus-general election system. Considering the study’s results and last year’s very low voter turnout, she said, “all of these things did not happen in our city.” “It is disturbing to me that we’re talking about an extra quarter of a million dollars for a system that was supposed to decrease our costs,” Johnson said.  Find the report at

IRV bob joyce school of gov

“No instant-runoff capable equipment meets North Carolina’s standards — so will we gut those standards? Lawmakers and citizens understand that we need our verified voting law, and we need to implement it correctly. Our standards for voting systems, software and vendors are key to protecting North Carolina voters from harm caused by uncertified software or unscrupulous vendors. We ignore those at our peril.” ~ Joyce McCloy, Director, NC Coalition for Verified Voting

North Carolina’s voting machines do not have the software to tabulate IRV ballots.  In fact, there are NO federally certified voting systems that are compatible with IRV.
Neither the hardware or the software of North Carolina’s new optical scan machines can accommodate IRV.  The touch screens can accommodate IRV with the use of an illegal work around.  If IRV became permanent, counties would either switch to touch screens and use an illegal work around , thus weakening the Public Confidence in Elections Law, or end up looking for a source for optical scanners certified to do IRV.
Optical Scan & IRV:  With optical scan there will be sorting and re-sorting and manual tabulating of the second or third rounds. This increase the chances of mistakes and risk that all of the ballots won’t all be counted. (It will be harder to detect).
In the Cary, North Carolina “instant runoff”, election workers had to manually sort and stack the paper ballots in order to count the second round of votes in the contest for District B City Council.

The election workers count didn’t match the candidates’ informal count. An “audit” was done (not in a public meeting) and it resulted in the ballots being recounted and a “correction” of the results.
See “Critics Take Runoff Concerns to Elections Board”  NBC 17

Touch-screen machines & IRV:  Instead of making the Instant Runoff Voting Pilot fit our law, a “work around” has been crafted  that will in effect gut key sections of the law to fit IRV.  Because there is no software to accommodate IRV, and perhaps to make IRV attractive to the touch-screen counties like Henderson County, an uncertified work around was created to avoid the approved legal method of manually sorting and counting of the 2nd and 3rd rounds.  Since Hendersonville did not have to hold a “runoff”, this uncertified method was not tested.  With this illegal work around, the State BoE has made touch-screens a more attractive option than optical scanners.

Do you understand how the IRV ballots are counted?

2007 PILOT PROGRAM   M100 (OPTICAL SCAN) METHODOLOGY (like used in Cary)

Instructions on counting optical scan IRV ballots  are on pages 1- 3, and sample ballots are on page 5  (provided by the Rocky Mount Telegram)

See how the IRV ballot will appear on Henderson touchscreen machines – it is very confusing:

 A sample ballot shows how instant runoff voting will affect the way voters choose Hendersonville City Council members this year. (105 KB) Asheville Citizen Times

With IRV, the 2nd and 3rd choices are uncounted and unaccounted for unless there is a “instant runoff” –

The law says that ballots cast at the polling place are to be counted there immediately after the polls close.

In the 2007 IRV Pilot:

1. Counting ballots away from where they were cast. In Cary, NC – the 2nd and 3rd choice votes for the “instant runoff” were not counted on election night. Instead, they were carried away from where they were cast and then counted at a later date.

§ 163-182.2. Initial counting of official ballots . (a) The initial counting of official ballots shall be conducted according to the following principles:(1) Vote counting at the precinct shall occur immediately after the polls close and shall be continuous until completed. 

This puts those choices at risk of tampering after being hauled away from the polling places and put into storage.   

2. There was no Election night reporting for voters’ second and third choices.  There are no election night reports/poll tapes for these results because the machines cannot count the 2nd and 3rd choices, and officials did not themselves count the 2nd and 3rd choices on election night. North Carolina’s voting machines are incapable of doing such reporting,  The only way to account for the voters choices and secure them against fraud would be to count all second and third choices on election night at the polling places and create a manual report of that data.

3. Incomplete vote data.  Only partial data was reported for the District B contest where voters second and third choices were utlimately counted. No raw vote data was reported for the other IRV contests that had a winner in the first round.  Without all raw vote data, i.e the tallies for all choices, whether they were needed to ascertain a winner – we cannot ascertain if this election was “non monotonic”, i.e voters hurt their first choice by voting for them. Campaigns cannot see where their efforts succeeded or failed in campaigning and even cross endorsing as IRV advocates promote.

4. Provisional ballots were not counted until after the 2nd and 3rd choices were counted, and supposedly “added” back in. Since IRV is not “additive”, it is not clear how these votes could possibly be added back in without doing a complete recount.

5. Absentee ballots. It is not clear when the absentee ballots were counted, so the question is – were they counted with the first, second and third rounds?

6. Audits and recounts must be publicly announced and observed, and notice must be given in time for the public to attend.  Wake County miscounted just 3,000 ballots in the Cary IRV experiment, (Oct 30, 2007 Critics Take Runoff Concerns To Elections Board NBC 17) and ended up doing an audit without citizens having an opportunity to observe.

7. Canvassing was done after counting the 2nd and 3rd rounds of ballots for District B. Provisional ballots weren’t included in the count of the 2nd and 3rd rounds of voting.  Officials say they “added” these votes in later. All votes should be counted in the 2nd and 3rd round, provisional votes and absentee votes included.

8. Uncertified software to count the votes on touchscreen machines.  There is no federally approved software to count instant runoff voting so the NC State BoE set up an uncertified “workaround”  to help out Henderson County, NC, a touchscreen jurisdiction. Luckily there was no “runoff” so the work around was not used. This work around violates North Carolina election law that requires all vote counting systems and software to be federally certified.

This work around violates at least 2 sections of NC Election Law

§ 163-165.7. Voting systems: powers and duties of State Board of Elections. (a) Only voting systems that have been certified by the State Board of Elections in accordance with the procedures and subject to the standards set forth in this section and that have not been subsequently decertified shall be permitted for use in elections in this State.

The State Board may certify additional voting systems only if they meet the requirements of the request for proposal process set forth in this section…

(1) That the vendor post a bond or letter of credit to cover damages resulting from defects in the voting system. Damages shall include, among other items, any costs of conducting a new election attributable to those defects.

(2) That the voting system comply with all federal requirements for voting systems. (There is no federally certified IRV tabulating software).

§ 163-165.9A. Voting systems: requirements for voting systems vendors; penalties.

This touch screen work around removes vote data from the ES&S Unity system to a system not tested with it – exporting data first to notepad/wordpad and then excell to tabulate the votes.

a. neither word pad, note pad or excell have been tested for their vote tabulation ability.
b. this process erases audit data as it progresses, excell doesn’t have an audit trail, and some versions of excell have bugs.
c. it is not known what happens to the data as it is moved from the ES&S vote tabulation system to a non ES&S vote tabulation system.

All parts of the vote tabulation system must be federally tested together, to ensure they work together.

There are over 100 steps in the process, with instructions like “click on the red tab, or click on the blue tab”, and one single keystroke error would change the outcome of the election, and there is no audit trail for this process. Audit data is deleted as steps are performed.