The price is too high for the benefit

 In case you’re counting, the runoff election yesterday cost more than $50 per vote cast for election officials to administer — about $4 million to operate about 3,000 polling places and process the results of barely 75,000 votes cast.  In some counties, the cost for the local board of elections easily exceeded $70 per vote.

Local taxpayers foot the bill, not the state, which may be one reason why state lawmakers have been slow to address the problem of expensive, low-turnout runoffs for the partisan nominees for executive branch elections.

One alternative is Instant Runoff Voting, where voters can mark their first choice and a back-up choice on Election Day. Democracy North Carolina has a simple fact sheet about IRV or preference voting on our website, pegged to the pilots run in 2007 in a couple municipal elections:

http://www.democracy-nc.org/improving/IRV.pdf

Opponents of IRV in North Carolina have a habit of spreading fear and wrong information; for example, it’s ludicrous to say that IRV costs more than the runoff system we use now.  There’s got to be a better way than these embarrassing statewide runoff elections – either by filling some the Council of State positions by gubernatorial appointment, nominating others with a different threshold for victory, using IRV, or something else. 

2 Comments

  1. Chris Telesca

    June 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    It’s very accurate to say that IRV will cost more than the runoff system we use now. Other states have examined IRV and have found that it costs way too much to implement it.

    It’s too simplistic to say that a single IRV election costs less than a regular election and a second runoff. IRV does does more for software, but we can’t be sure how much that cost will be – there is no software yet written for our election equipment. We might need to get new hardware to run it on. Election administrators and poll workers have to be trained on the more complex IRV method. Ballots with three columns for each candidate cost more than those with only one column, etc.

    If you use the $3.08 cost per registered voter for implementation and 48 cents per registered voter for voter education that the MD legislature came up with in their 2008 IRV bill (one of three they rejected due to high cost) and apply those costs to 5.8 million NC voters, it would cost almost $18 million to implement IRV and $2.8 million for voter education. You have to pay for IRV each and every year because you never know if you will need it. Compare that to $3.5 to $5 million for a statewide runoff that you only pay when you need it – and we end up needing it once every 4 years.

    Over time – IRV ends up costing a lot more than traditional runoff elections. If we implemented IRV this year, by the election year of 2040, IRV would cost taxpayers $107 million vs $45 million for traditional runoffs.

    We could do better. Lowering the threshold might work.

    But in addition to being more expensive, IRV is also more complex than traditional elections to count. There is no software certified to tabulate IRV in our state, so IRV elections must be handcounted. At the pace set by the Wake BOE in October 2007 to sort/stack and count a little over 3000 Cary ballots (6 hours including set up time), and starting the day after the elections were certified by the SBOE on May 22, the Wake BOE would have taken 7.5 weeks to tabulate 150,000 Democratic ballots cast in Wake County to settle the Labor Commissioner’s race using IRV. That means they would have been doing nothing but counting IRV ballots until sometime in the middle of July – three weeks after the June 24 race. And that is assuming that the count was accurate the first time – “audits” of IRV races have to essentially recount the entire race. And having other IRV races would only take more time.

    And there is some doubt if we could have even used IRV in the May primary election. A memo from the State Board of Elections dated March 6, 2007 recommends not using IRV in the May 2008 primary election because IRV could pose a risk. Before leaders consider extending the pilot, they should get the SBOE to tell them about the specific risk or risks posed by IRV, and how to eliminate that risk if possible.

    I would suggest that all sides in this matter – both the IRV advocates and opponents – have equal time and access to our state leaders before getting them to vote to extend the IRV pilot program. No “ex parte” communications – both sides deserve a fair hearing. And other options should be explored and considered before we consider extending the IRV pilot program.

  2. Chris Telesca

    July 7, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Submitted by Chris Telesca (not verified) on Mon, 07/07/2008 – 09:03.

    NC Legislators considering an extension to the IRV pilot program would do well to table the legislation and research/deA new report on the conditions of San Francisco’s elections dept as just released on July 3, 2008. That report also noted several problems with their IRV program after 4 years of doing IRV:

    -their new Sequoia machines for RCV still haven’t been certified by the state (not federally certified either)
    -they need a contingency plan for counting the RCV ballots if the new machines aren’t certified in time for the election,
    -and they need more “public outreach” (voter ed) on ranked choice voting.

    This is partly because there is no federally certified software yet. San Francisco is following California law that voting systems have to be federally certified.

    …Another problem, according to the report, is the lack of certification by the California Secretary of State of San Francisco’s new Sequoia voting machines for ranked-choice voting, instituted in 2002 for elections to some city offices in order to avoid runoff elections. State certification was still pending at the time of the report.

    With a high voter turnout expected for November’s presidential election, the Elections Department needs a contingency plan, an alternative method of counting ranked-choice ballots, in place in case the Sequoia machines are not certified by the election, the report concluded.

    The report also said additional public outreach efforts are needed on voter registration requirements, ranked-choice voting and absentee voting.

    The full report can be viewed at http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/courts/divisions/Civil_Grand_Jur
    http://cbs5.com/localwire/22.0.html?type=bcn&item=SF-ELECTIONS-REPORT-ba
    —