June 7, 2009

Minneapolis Takes the ‘Instant’ Out of IRV

Posted in Elections, ES&S, IRV, paper ballots, voting, voting machines tagged , , , at 5:56 pm by bluebanshee

Those who have been watching the long (seven months and counting!) slog toward a final resolution the Coleman-Franken election contest will not be amazed to discover that the same slow methodical approach will be applied to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in Minneapolis. There won’t be any cutting corners for Minnesotans, unlike what was done elsewhere (Cary, NC and Aspen, CO spring to mind here!). http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/05/21/irv_voting/

Members of the Minneapolis City Council found out today that they’ll likely have to wait a month or more after election day to find out whether they win re-election this year. City elections officials estimate it will take between 30 and 60 days — working 8-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week — to tally ballots under the city’s new instant runoff voting system.

In 2006 voters in Minneapolis opted for the complicated IRV process and just recently the City Council decided to proceed with implementation.

Now comes the hard part, making it work in a jurisdiction where the tallying software does not support IRV.

The local Election Director says it could take up to two months to conduct a hand count of the ballots for the second and third rounds of the runoff. Voters will have the opportunity to mark their first, second and third choices on their ballots. The ES&S optical scanners will be used to tally the first round and then the hand counts will be used for the succeeding rounds.

According to Elections Director Cindy Reichert it’s impossible to predict exactly how long the counting will take.

“But the number of eight-hour shifts we would need to perform, if no races go to a runoff, maximum number of counting teams are staffed, and we improve our speed and turnout is low, the minimum number of eight-hour shifts would be 24,” Reichert said.

That’s the best-case scenario, and Reichert said it’s unlikely. So is the worst case scenario: 139 eight-hour shifts. Her best guess is somewhere between 30 and 60 shifts, and it’s possible they could squeeze in two shifts a day.

“The time for the count is dependent on many factors; the number of ballots cast, number of races which go to the runoff, number of candidates who file, number of rounds of counting, number of teams that can be effectively supervised and the number of counting centers that can be set up in our space available,” Reichert said.

Another issue not directly addressed by Reichert is the fact that IRV will require a significant change in election practices and procedures: Minnesota counts ballots in the precinct, not at a central location. In order to conduct an IRV election there will need to be a shift to a central count. Ballots may need to be transported from the precinct polling places to a central location and there will be chain of custody and security issues needing to be addressed.

The Coleman-Franken process demonstrated the methodical integrity inherent in Minnesota elections. Now we will see another opportunity to watch the phlegmatic Minnesota elections process at work — but it is not predicted to take quite as long as the U.S. Senate contest — and is not likely to lead through the courts.

Tell me again — why is this called “Instant”? With all the personnel time involved in the hand count will it really save money, as proponents claim? Somehow, I doubt it.

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