The Instant Runoff Voting Scam

Friday’s Commercial Appeal ran a guest column on the op-ed entitled “Next Election, Use Instant Runoff Voting.” Myra Stiles, Democrat, and Brian Stephens, Republican, authored the piece. Both are former members of the Shelby Election Commission.

They use the runoff election between Lee Harris and Kemba Ford to tout this instant runoff scheme. They claim it is backed by both President Obama and Senator John McCain, explaining that it “determines a majority winner in one efficient election.” It saves money and is used in nine states, along with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to determine Oscar winners.

Stiles and Stephens continue. It “makes candidates less indebted to special interest contributors” and “allows more opportunity for lesser known, less funded candidates.” They conclude, “since Memphians voted overwhelmingly in favor of Instant Runoff Voting three years ago, why don’t we have it?”

It all sounds good, right? The only phrase missing is “it’s for the children.”

But is it?

Here’s how it works. A voter ranks his top candidates one, two and three. All the votes are counted and then if their is no 50% majority plus one, the second and third tier candidates are counted. TS-SI News Service explains what happens next.

“First, the contender with the lowest number of first choice votes is dropped from the competition. Each voter who had ranked that candidate as their number one choice then has their vote given to whichever candidate they selected as their second choice. The votes are re-tallied and, as before, the contender with the lowest vote total is eliminated. This process continues for as many rounds as needed until one candidate has over 50% of the votes tallied in a round, at which point he or she is declared the winner.”

“With ranked choice voting,” says Stanford University mathematician Keith Devlin, “you can get a winner who is the first choice of only a relatively small minority of the voters. Undesirable outcomes such as this can arise because the candidates are eliminated and their votes reassigned one after another, and the order in which that happens can make a huge difference. A shift of a large block of votes in an early round can eliminate a candidate who would have gone on to win had she survived until a later round and then picked up ore votes to boost her tally.”

The San Francisco Bay Citizen took a look at how it worked in their elections. “Critics of ranked choice voting point to the results of San Francisco’s mayoral race as evidence of what is wrong with the system: It favors incumbents, and it rarely requires a majority of voters to determine a winner,” the newspaper wrote.

“As more ballots are exhausted with each round, the number of votes used to determine a winner decrease, allowing candidates to gain office with support from a minority of voters.” It took 12 rounds to get Ed Lee elected. “In the final round, Lee had only 43% of all votes and John Avalos had 29%.

“According to (Corey) Cook (a political science professor at the University of San Francisco), every exhausted ballot amounted to half a vote for Lee, because it reduced the likelihood of someone catching up to him. In every round, Lee’s support grew as more ballots were discarded, reducing the number of votes available to his competitors.”

In the end, the Bay Citizen concluded, “sixteen percent of San Francisco voters who filled out their ballots correctly and completely – more than 31,500 people – did not have a say in the final outcome of the city’s mayoral race. Their ballot were discarded or exhausted, because they did not list either Lee or Avalos as one of their top three candidates.”

TS-SI finds that “opponents of the method point out that voters whose choices are repeatedly eliminated effectively get to vote several times, and moreover the process gives equal value to a person’s third place ranking of a candidate and someone else’s top choice vote.”

And, “the known vagaries of the voting method have resulted in some candidates trying new approaches to getting votes. Mayoral candidate Michela Alioto-Pier sent out a mailing urging voters to ‘please consider at least making Michela your number 2 choice for mayor’ and a mailing from the San Francisco Republican Party suggested two mayor ‘candidates to avoid.’

Devlin thinks that as candidates become more aware of the election math and the possibilities it opens up, more of these tactics are likely to be seen. ‘Particularly in the era of social media, where it is possible for large numbers of voters to coordinate their actions,’ he adds.”

Seems to me that what we need is Shelby County is to repeal this vote. Why complicate the system and make it rife for more fraud? It may cost a little more for the city, but if voting integrity isn’t one of the elected officials’ pledge, then what is?

Shelby County Election Commissioner Dee Nollner, recently put on the board, will be our guest at the December 6 Midtown Republican Club meeting. It will be an opportunity to ask her more about the process.

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