May 17, 2009
IRV in Aspen — a tale of spoiled ballots, voter confusion and corners cut
It makes you scratch your head and wonder whether backers of IRV are living in a parallel universe when proponents of IRV like Rob Richie of FairVote.org make statements like this one
A successful IRV election was held in Aspen, Colorado last week (the city’s first IRV election), in which incumbent mayor Mick Ireland defeated three challengers in a contest with a record-breaking turnout; 45% versus the usual 37-38%. Analysis of the election by TrueBallot showed that every single vote cast for mayor was valid, meaning 100% of those who opted to vote for mayor had their vote count. There were more voter errors in the novel use of IRV to elect two at-large city council seats, but still less than 1% of those at the polls.
And then you read the account of the same election in the local Aspen newspaper that tells a completely different story. http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20090505/NEWS/905059933/1077&ParentProfile=1058
Aspen chose a mayor and two City Council members Tuesday in an election that left plenty of voters confused at the polls and equally mystified as the ballots were tallied in televised proceedings late into the evening.The city’s first use of instant runoff voting, which eliminated the need for a June runoff election, got mixed reviews at the polls. And the whirlwind runoffs after three hours of tallying votes left plenty of observers at a loss to explain exactly how the results were tabulated…
Aspen’s first use of instant runoff voting for Tuesday’s election featured a display of ballots on a screen at City Hall as they were scanned by the system. Only the first and second choices on this ballot were counted; it was invalidated in the third round of runoff voting because the voter ranked two different candidates as their third choice.
Voters apparently found the runoff ballots — which asked them to rank the four mayoral candidates and nine council candidates in order of preference — confusing. There were 168 spoiled ballots Tuesday; two is typical, said City Clerk Kathryn Koch.
And then there is this observation by another pollworker:
..Election judge Cindy Christensen reported plenty of miscues, including voters who forgot to cast a vote on the Aspen Art Museum question, placed at the bottom of the one-page ballot, apparently because they got caught up in ranking up to nine City Council candidates. Others gave both of their top picks for the council a No. 1 ranking, which invalidated the ballot.
“We’ve had quite a few spoiled ballots,” she said. Voters had up to three tries to fill out a ballot the scanning machine would accept. No one had required all three attempts by late afternoon, though, getting it right on the second try — usually after the first ballot was rejected because a voter ranked both of their top council choices as No. 1 picks instead of ranking one first and one second.
So the only reason that TrueBallot found all ballots were valid was because voters got a second try after their ballot was rejected by the precinct scanner.
Then when reporter Janet Urquhart talked to voters, she got an earful of complaints:
“I hate it. It’s very confusing,” said one voter emerging from Precinct 1 who declined to cast runoff votes. Instead, she voted for one mayoral candidate and her two choices for the two open council seats.
Others did the same, squandering their say in the runoff, should their top picks fail to win a seat.
Mark Lee said he voted for just one mayoral candidate and two council candidates, though he prefers instant runoff voting to returning to the polls in June for a runoff election.
“I know who I want and I don’t like any of the others,” he said, explaining why he didn’t rank candidates beyond the minimum.
“I didn’t like it,” said another woman. “I just want to vote for who I think is it. I didn’t like voting this way.”….
This does not sound like a resounding success in the opinion of those most closely involved in the Aspen election.
Why should the opinion of IRV proponents be given greater weight than the voters who have to live with the consequences? Not in this author’s opinion. If the goal of an election in a democracy is to discern the will of the voters in a way that is clear and understandable by the average voter, then IRV is an epic fail. The process has to be observable so that voters can have confidence in the integrity of the system.