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http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/86286377.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:Ug8P:Pc:UiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr

Andy Cilek and Matt Marchetti: Here's a serious challenge for your math and civics skills Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune PMA sign and American Flag directed voters to the Ward 7 polling place at the Jones Harrison Residence in Minneapolis. By ANDY CILEK and MATT MARCHETTI Last update: March 3, 2010 - 7:37 PM

Readers of the Star Tribune need to be informed about the errors in Tim Penny's recent opinion piece supporting instantrunoff voting ("Instant-runoff voting fits the times in this state," Feb 13). Penny argues that IRV produces majority winners, helps third parties and prevents votes from being wasted. Leaving aside the questionable assertion that a "plurality" winner is somehow inferior to a "majority" winner, Penny and others evidently do not understand IRV enough to recognize how the recent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board District 5 race contradicts their assertions. The city's elections shows that Carol Kummer won with 46.13 percent of the total

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ballots cast. The majority of voters did not cast their ballots for Kummer, because a considerable number did not cast votes for either of the finalists. Only one candidate was listed on 44 percent of the ballots, and less than one-third of the ballots had all three preferences filled in. So much for the view that citizens are clamoring to vote for a long list of candidates. Clearly, IRV does not guarantee a true majority winner. Penny claims that IRV "could guarantee a more meaningful role for third parties in America." This assertion exposes IRV for what it is: an interference with the votecounting process by those who failed in the political debate. The vote tabulation should not favor any group of voters. Penny states that IRV allows voters who prefer candidates with little chance of winning to avoid "wasting" their ballots by enabling them to eventually vote for the winner or the second-place finisher. Yet analysis of the individual ballots from the Park Board District 5 shows there were 52 voters who filled in their allowed three choices with the three least popular candidates, leaving them no way to express their preference between Kummer and Jason

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Stone, who came in second. These voters were effectively prevented from voting in the final round where the winner was determined. These are truly "wasted" ballots, and they don't occur in a normal election, because in normal elections every voter is allowed to participate in the final tally. The city of San Francisco is currently being sued in federal court to prevent its further use of IRV precisely because it caused this kind of electoral harm there. Even more important than these defects in IRV is the impact it has on the individual right to vote. Mathematicians, voting experts and the Minnesota Supreme Court have recognized that in IRV a voter cannot be sure that his or her vote for a candidate will help, rather than hurt, that candidate. In IRV, a voter can actually harm his preferred candidate simply by ranking him first instead of second. In a recent IRV election in Aspen, Colo., council candidate Michael Behrendt was defeated by 75 of his own supporters. Two independent analysts calculated that if Behrendt had had the foresight to ask those 75 supporters to rank him second instead of first, he would have won.

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This well-known perversion of the vote counting arises because IRV does not just "add up" the votes for all candidates at once, as is done in normal voting. Rather, IRV eliminates candidates and then counts the second choices on the ballots that preferred those eliminated candidates. The problem arises because some second choices are counted (those on ballots whose first choice was eliminated) and other second choices are not counted (those on ballots whose first choice has not been eliminated). Close races (precisely the ones for which IRV is touted as an improvement), therefore, can be decided by which (or whose) second choices are counted. When voters rank a particular candidate first, they are not just adding to that candidate's final total. In addition, they may be affecting which candidate is eliminated next and therefore whose second choices will be counted. In some close races, when voters rank a less-preferred choice first, they keep that less-preferred candidate from being eliminated and thereby change which second choices are counted. The resulting new second choices may be more favorable to their preferred candidate, but there is no way for them to know that when they cast their vote.

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IRV thus disenfranchises voters by putting them in the position of not knowing if they are helping or hurting the candidate they support. In short, IRV is a harmful intrusion of politics into the vote-counting process. Andy Cilek, Eden Prairie, and Matt Marchetti, North St. Paul, are directors of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a citizens' group focused on election issues.

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Minnesotta RCV Editorial