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IRV and Election Integrity II
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
So I went to the election training for poll workers at city hall last night. I knew Shay wasn't going to be able to cover it, and I didn't see any other press there. I only stayed until I got the information I wanted, which only took about ten minutes. The meeting was led by assistant administrative officer Ben Pacy, with backup by the city's I.T. guy "Dana". They answered questions from those present including me.

So here's how the election will work as I understand it. Each ward will get two machines. One for the IRV mayoral ballots and one for all other candidates and ballot questions. Ballots meant for one machine will not fit in the other.

The tabulators for the IRV machine will arrive at the wards in black bags closed with zippers and the zippers will have seals. Poll workers will confirm the seal number, break the seal, open the bag and then confirm the serial number on the machine. Then they will turn the machine on and a tape will print indicating that zero ballots have passed through it, and each mayoral candidate has zero votes. Poll workers will have to sign that tape.

At the end of voting, poll workers will print a new tape that will indicate the number of ballots that have passed though the tabulator, and that the mayoral candidates still have zero votes. The reason that the tapes won't show the candidates' vote totals, is because the voting machine can't interpret IRV votes. All it does is "take a picture" of them and count how many ballots there were. How many ballots pass though the machine is the only information the printed tapes will give us, but it's very important.

I asked Dana and Ben Pacy how we could be sure there aren't already mayoral votes in the tabulator's memory card before voting begins. They told me that the machine would not turn on if there are any votes on the memory card. I asked Ben how they know that and his reply was not reassuring. "That's what they tell us" he said. Great.

So we really can't be sure there aren't already votes on the cards before they go out to the polls, but at least we will get the number of votes that should be coming from each ward at the end of the night. So if 500 ballots go through a ward's machine, the vote total from that ward's memory card should be 500, not more.

Unfortunately the memory cards from all the wards are all fed into one machine (the "VTS" system) at city hall which will give us a "ballot soup" from all the wards. I'm not sure how we could parse out which votes or how many came from a given ward once they all go into the soup.

In fact there are two machines at city hall the ballots are likely to be fed into. The "VTS" system will "consolidate" the votes (Dana's word) into a giant soup pot (my analogy) and if no candidate has a majority of the soup, then the soup will get strained through yet a third machine (after the voting machine tabulator and the "VTS")- the "Choice-Plus Pro" software that calculates the IRV and picks a winner.

I'm hoping at the very least we can get the ballot totals from all the wards and add them up. That total should equal the combined total of first choice votes for all mayoral candidates. If it doesn't, there's a problem. Of course in order to do this basic check, someone would have to personally, physically see all seven signed tapes showing ballot totals from all the wards.

Frankly I hate how complicated IRV has made counting the votes. Simply put, IRV makes our mayoral election results less trustworthy. I hope there's a recount so the paper ballots get counted by humans.

Call me paranoid all you want. If asking smart questions and being concerned about election integrity makes me paranoid, then I don't want to be sane.

Labels:

posted by Haik Bedrosian @ 8:15 AM  
20 Comments:
  • At February 25, 2009 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Haik, great write up and I appreciate you going to this and shedding light on the whole process.

    You have every right to be concerned, as I am. I talked to a candidate today and they told me that it would be foolish not to have lawyers on standby ready to challenge anything that Ben Pacey does that does smell just a little fishy.

    Frankly, I am VERY concerned about this whole process. The 2006 race just seemed to run smoother and there wasn't all this concern over the tabulators and the information.

    It also doesn't help my nerves that my ballot may be counted wrong...on top of the fact that Jonathan Leopold, the CAO of the City and Ben Pacey's Boss just happened to inject himself into the Mayoral race a few weeks ago.

    Those ballots better be ready for a recount if anything goes wrong. I am really worried how this whole system has panned out.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 5:37 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Listen. I want to be clear. I am not accusing anyone of anything. This issue is not going to effect how I am going to vote for mayor on Tuesday at all, unless I learn something new that warrants it between now and when I vote.

    ...Plus there's nobody else gonna run the election but Ben Pacy now anyways, so, let's wish him well on Tuesday. Seriously. I just think the more people thinking about this the better. If the race is tight enough for a recount, that would be good, in my opinion.

    It's not about Ben, it's about how IRV effects election integrity- not the philosophy of it, but how the systems it necessitates introduce weak points in the public's understanding and even their administrators' understanding of the process.

    If there are points in the process introduced that could allow for foul play, and we have no way to know that it's not happening, then we're screwed. That's not a system with integrity.

    Now you may say I'm just dumb and I don't understand the technology, and you might be right- but you're not. No technology can ever replace the paper ballot produced by a voter. We should have the mental discipline to count the votes by hand.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 6:06 PM, Anonymous Ivan Jacobs said…

    Frankly I hate how complicated IRV has made counting the votes. Simply put, IRV makes our mayoral election results less trustworthy. I hope there's a recount so the paper ballots get counted by humans.
    I'd argue that it's not IRV itself, but the system we have in place to deal with IRV that is complicating things.

    I've heard there will be changes in 3 years to deal with at least some of these concerns.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As a computer programmer the unnecessary complications in these systems baffle me. I can't believe that companies that can make secure ATMs sell such hack job systems as this.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 9:53 PM, Anonymous Ivan Jacobs said…

    I'm glad we agree on this, I guess I missed your comment in quotations, where did you say that?

    I don't agree that the 40% system was fine. It costs a lot to run a standard run-off and turn-out drops dramatically.

    IRV allows for more choices. I'm enjoying having 4 serious candidates for mayor. People will stay out of races without IRV for fear of being called a 'spoiler'. That's not good for democracy.

    I thought Ken Picard's article on IRV today was really good:

    Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About IRV – But Didn't Know How to Ask

     
  • At February 25, 2009 9:58 PM, Anonymous Charity said…

    Wow! Awesome job, Haik. Someone ought to pay you for this. You really went above and beyond for this election.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 10:44 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Someone ought to pay you for this.

    I couldn't agree more Charity. Thanks.

    ********

    It costs a lot to run a standard run-off and turn-out drops dramatically.

    Oh Ivan. Mayoral runoffs are free in Burlington because we never have them. Well, not until 2006 that is.

    Also I might argue that it's participation in an instant runoff that drops off dramatically, because only those who voted for the losers participate in the runoff. If you vote for one of the first round's top vote getters, then only your first choice vote gets counted. Or, if you prefer, you're forced to vote for the same person again in the second round. You can't change your mind like in a real runoff.

    Also IRV does not allow for more choices. Any number of candidates can run under either system, and they each only produce one winner.

    Also when it comes to "spoilers" I think just as many potential candidates are attracted by the idea of being a spoiler as are repelled by it.

    It's important to keep in mind that Bernie Sanders never would have won in 1981 if IRV was used. Then most of "spoiler" Dick Bove's supporters would probably have supported Paquette over Bernie Sanders. Paquette only would have had to make up a ten vote deficit with Bove supporters' second choices.

     
  • At February 25, 2009 10:52 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Oh I just remembered I promised Ben Pacy I'd try to put in a good word for him this time because I always give him so much shit on this blog.

    He seems like a nice guy. I told him my name and he still shook my hand. And I think despite the problems he's had, he is still a moderately capable manager, albeit not as philosophically curious about the election systems as I'd like.

    That's a pretty good word I guess.

     
  • At February 26, 2009 1:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm not sure how else you would count an IRV election without one machine having simultaneous access to every ballot (you can't do a ward-by-ward count, because each ward would have to know every other ward's results in order to know who to drop off from round-to-round), so I'm not sure why it's "unfortunate." I also see no technical reason (as in, independent of particular implementation) why the ballots can't remain associated with their originating ward. Additionally, making sure that the count starts at "0" is a concern for every kind of election, not just IRV.

    The process for counting an IRV election is pretty straightforward. While everyone can appreciate concerns for the transparency and accuracy of an electronic vote counting process in this day, it doesn't seem as if any of your concerns have anything to do with IRV specifically.

     
  • At February 26, 2009 10:45 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    I also see no technical reason (as in, independent of particular implementation) why the ballots can't remain associated with their originating ward.

    I guess there isn't here's a link to the ward breakdown from last time.
    http://www.burlingtonvotes.org/20060307/MayorRace032006.pdf

    Additionally, making sure that the count starts at "0" is a concern for every kind of election, not just IRV.

    That's true, but there is weakness in Pacy's understanding of how we can be sure the cards are at zero. "That's what they tell us" is not a sufficient answer, and we shouldn't be so reliant on the advice of software companies and paid consultants.

    it doesn't seem as if any of your concerns have anything to do with IRV specifically.

    It does in terms of IRV's implementation and the additional steps it requires where the election's integrity might be compromised. In general, the less the ballots have to be transported, the fewer systems the ballots have to pass through and the fewer people we have to trust with those systems, or hire as consultants, the more secure and trustworthy the election.

    The simpler the better. IRV forces change that makes counting the votes more complicated. That's a major concern in itself.

    Very thoughtful comment though. Thank you.

     
  • At February 26, 2009 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/intellisphere/ce0507-special/index.php?startpage=52&qs=gierzynski

     
  • At February 26, 2009 11:52 AM, Anonymous Jess Wilson said…

    Great discussion Haik and thanks for shedding more light on the issue. The question about a ward by ward breakdown prompted me to look at Ch17's tabulation spreadsheets from 2006. They do contain that information and so I'm pretty sure that's how it was presented three years ago. I even have a vague memory of looking at individual ward results for the 1st round and realizing that Bob would probably win because he beat Hinda in her own ward. But then again I've done so many of these election nights they begin to fade together after a while.

     
  • At February 26, 2009 10:11 PM, Blogger JayV said…

    Thanks, Haik, and it's a great discussion thread, too! - Jay

     
  • At February 27, 2009 7:59 AM, Anonymous Charity said…

    I don't see why there can't be a first-run count from each ward's election site, then we have to wait for the full IRV process to be run at the central location after all the stuff is transported.

    What, we can't wait that long for the run-off results? I blame the MTV generation!!

     
  • At February 27, 2009 10:20 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    The Machines that accept the IRV ballots can't count the mayoral votes. And the machines that accept the ballots for other races can't accept the IRV ballot.

     
  • At February 27, 2009 11:02 AM, Blogger Charity said…

    I know that the current set up won't allow it, but it would be doable with some changes. I think it would be preferable to the current system because people trust the on-site counts more than the count done after ballots are transported.

     
  • At February 27, 2009 11:27 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Agreed.

     
  • At February 28, 2009 8:27 PM, Blogger JayV said…

    Charity-- "I blame the MTV generation!!"

    D'accord, as they say in Baton Rouge. :-P

    And I agree with Charity's last comment, too.

     
  • At March 03, 2009 1:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ben Pacy = great guy. One of the best managers around.

     
  • At March 05, 2009 5:28 PM, Anonymous Mister Guy said…

    "So we really can't be sure there aren't already votes on the cards before they go out to the polls"

    Only if you really, really think that they are trying to cook an election down at City Hall.

    "So if 500 ballots go through a ward's machine, the vote total from that ward's memory card should be 500, not more."

    Or, you could just read this sentence that you wrote yourself and know that there IS a way to know if there are more votes being tabulated than there should have been...sheesh...

    "I'm not sure how we could parse out which votes or how many came from a given ward once they all go into the soup."

    The Burlington Free Press published these very numbers after this recent election for Mayor of Burlington in 2009.

    "Of course in order to do this basic check, someone would have to personally, physically see all seven signed tapes showing ballot totals from all the wards."

    Are you saying that this info isn't given out to the public?

    "Simply put, IRV makes our mayoral election results less trustworthy"

    ...in your opinion.

    "I am not accusing anyone of anything."

    I think you are...in a round-about way at the very least. You don't seem to trust the election officials down at City Hall. That's a judgement call that you can make if you want, but I personally don't see any real evidence for concern.

    "it's about how IRV effects election integrity- not the philosophy of it, but how the systems it necessitates introduce weak points in the public's understanding and even their administrators' understanding of the process."

    I think you're being disengenious here. You do not at all seem like you are a supporter of IRV (which is fine), and you are inentionally trying to cast IRV is the most negative light possible as a result (which is not so fine IMO).

    "No technology can ever replace the paper ballot produced by a voter."

    There ARE paper ballots that can be examined until the cows come home after an IRV election in Burlington!

    My big question is...when are they going to bite the bullet and do ALL elections in Burlington via IRV?? I thought that was the process (and the goal) that was started several years ago.

     
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7D

Burlington "Free" Press

WCAX Channel 3 (CBS)

WPTZ Channel 5 (NBC)

SEABA

Vermont Bar Association

Chittenden Solid Waste District

Chittenden Solid Waste District

Carnegie library building

Wiki Leaks

Madeleine Kunin's Resume

Famous Vermonters Part I

Famous Vermonters Part II

True Crime in Burlington

Kennedy Family Tree

Rockefeller Family Tree

Bush Family Tree

Church of the Subgenius

Robert Anton Wilson

Right Here Writing From China!

Democracy Now!

Neighborhood Planning Assemblies

Huffington Post

Editor and Publisher

Bet on Politics!

Political Graveyard

Rasmussen Reports

Mark Fiore

Frame Shop

The King of All Media

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Yahoo!

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Dictionary

Bellisse

Boob Nazis

MRBFK

ACLU

Center for Digital Democracy

Free Radio Burlington

The Freedom Forum

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

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"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

-Emma Lazarus, 1883

Church Street Energy System

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