Wednesday, May 30, 2007

San Francisco record set straight

Steven Hill, who participated in the election process in San Francisco, responds to Deryl McCarty's comments on a previous posting.

Deryl McCarty wrote: "Where we disagree results from the San Francisco experience, that showed there will be wild percent swings in the winners' circle candidates percentages driven by small changes in candidate ballot counts at the"bottom" of the candidate list. San Francisco faced that problem during its first run at RCV and their Auditor (or whomever the chief election official in SF is) got a lot of flack for it."

Hill writes: Allow me to correct the record: I am from San Francisco, and assisted the Department of Elections, the Secretary of State, and San Francisco's vendor, ES&S, in implementing IRV in San Francisco. I can tell you categorically there have been NO WILD SWINGS -- zero -- in San Francisco's elections using IRV. In fact, in all races, the candidate initially in front with the most number of first rankings, i.e. the plurality winner, also ended up being the candidate with a majority, i.e. the majority winner.

And in the counting of the ballots, the order of finish has not changed over three election cycles, and at this point over more than a dozen races. I don't know where this rumor about "wild swings" got its life, but there is no truth to it.

McCarty wrote: "So in the next election using RCV he chose not to release any info except how many first place votes each candidate received."

Hill writes: That's not why the Director of Elections chose to wait until Friday (after a Tuesday election) to release round by round vote totals/tabulation results. He did so because in the first election in 2004, when ES&S went to run the tabulation on Wednesday, low and behold, it didn't work! It turns out they had made a very minor programming error that was not caught during the tons and tons of testing conducted by state and federal authorities.

Once discovered, the programming error was easily corrected, because it truly was minor. But it took until late Thursday to figure it out and make the change in a single line of code, get approval from the Secretary of State for that minor change. Then on Friday morning the tabulation was conducted successfully, and results released on Friday afternoon.

But this awful experience left the Director of Elections with a bad taste in his mouth, and so ever since then he has insisted on doing nothing with all the ballot images processed on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and waiting until Friday to run the first tabulation and release results. We have requested that he start doing it earlier, i.e. on Wednesday or Thursday, but he refuses. It's not because it is a difficult thing to do -- when the ballots are scanned, the ballot images are fed directly into the central tabulator, and it takes literally about three or four keystrokes on the laptop computer to run the tabulation, which takes all of about three minutes to complete.

So it's very easy and straightforward to run this tabulation with the existing ballots that have been processed up until that point. But nevertheless, the Director of Elections refuses to do so. Good luck figuring out what is the proper balance of transparency/openness and releasing of data. But I wanted to make sure that the conversation at least proceeds with accurate information about what has occurred in SanFrancisco.

All best,

Steven Hill
Director, Political Reform Program
New America Foundation
San Francisco, CA


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Kastama Decides Against Running for Executive

State Senator Jim Kastama has decided against running for Pierce County Executive. This leaves a full field of potential candidates still. Announced candidates include Councilmembers Shawn Bunney, Calvin Goings and Terry Lee. People are speculating that Auditor Pat McCarthy, Tacoma City Councilmember Mike Lonergan and Tacoma attorney John Mills are still contemplating runs as well.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Release of Ranked Choice Voting rounds

In November 2008, for the first ranked choice voting election in Pierce County, the Auditor's office should release the preliminary first choice results for the ranked choice races at the same time as the preliminary results for the other elections. In addition, the Auditor's office must choose when to start releasing the preliminary results of the elimination rounds.

The three logical possible choices to me are at the end of Tuesday night (Election Night), the end of Wednesday night or the end of Friday night. This is a tough choice, but I recommend doing it at the end of Election Night with the end of Wednesday night as a close second.

In addition, once you have started releasing the ranked choice voting round results, you should do it again each time you release the first choice counts. Further, there should be appropriate labelling of the results as preliminary at all times until they become final.

The Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy is faced with a tough choice on this one. While I come down on the side of Tuesday night's close, this is a tough choice. Let me go into my rationale recognizing this is not a clear cut decision.

In our current election system, the final results can be different from the preliminary results at times. However, the percentages at the end of election night are seldom dramatically different from the final percentages. As we saw in the 2004 Governor's race, the winner changed but the percentages were not dramatically different. The citizens of Pierce County are accustomed these kinds of shifts. The votes counted by the end of the first night of counting are a pretty representative sample, but the results are not final until the last vote is counted.

Likewise, since the ballots counted on the first day are a large representative sample of the total vote, so long as we label the preliminary results of the ranked choice voting rounds, voters will not experience much more in the way of swings in ranked choice elections than our current system.

Some advocates of waiting until later to release the results have expressed a concern about "wild swings" in the results. This could happen if at the end of election night, we had counted only a small sample of unrepresentative ballots. Due to the structure of Pierce County's mail-in elections, we have a large sample which tends to be pretty representative. This issue does not justify waiting to release the results.

Releasing the results on election night has the advantage of transparency and openness. This will particularly be an issue in the Pierce County Executive race in 2008; in particular, if Auditor McCarthy decides to run in this race. (Blogger's note: I favor McCarthy entering the Executive race since I am in favor of more voter choice.) Since it appears as if there will be several candidates in the Executive race, the other candidates will be suspicious if the Auditor's office does NOT release the preliminary results of the elimination rounds on Tuesday night. Both the media and the other candidates are likely to put pressure on McCarthy to release these results.

Having said all of the above, there may well be technological/operational reasons to postpone until Wednesday afternoon the release of elimination rounds. Until the elections officials have had a chance to do a practice run through, we will not be sure if that is true or not.

Currently, I can not imagine any justification for waiting until Friday afternoon to do the first release of the elimination results. The Auditor's office generally has a very large sample of votes counted by the end of Wednesday and we should do the first run through by then at the latest.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pierce County Executive - The Independent and the Libertarian

This is the third of a three-part series on candidates for the Pierce County Executive position in 2008. The first posting was about the Republicans in the race. The second posting was about the Democrats in the race.

Mike Lonergan, the Tacoma City Councilmember, is rumored to be running as an independent in the race. In addition to serving on the Tacoma City Council, Lonergan has been an executive of Christian social service organizations such as the Tacoma Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army.

It is exciting to have an independent in the race. Ranked choice voting makes running as an independent more feasible for Lonergan and others.

John Mills, former Libertarian Party state chairman, is contemplating a race for Pierce County Executive as well. Mills is a lawyer in Tacoma who has represented some high profile clients. Mills opposed the use of public funds to build the Chambers Bay Golf Course as well as the pay raise for the County Executive and County Council. Mills, also, backed the popular eminent domain amendment to the County Charter.

Mills views ranked choice voting as a leveling of the playing field for third party candidates and is looking forward to debating the other candidates in the race.