Black-box issue sheds light
The beautiful black issue of the Aspen Times Weekly isn’t bad news. A long article on the previous city election, the deepest and most accurate review, proves that rough edges of election policy are still being reported by a responsible press, in spite of political pressure and an instinctive tendency to sweep electoral difficulties under the rug. Supporters of democracy can feel optimistic that the story of recent election criticism has been written up even though a conventional community response is to overlook critics or threaten them in subtle (or not so subtle) ways.
Negative reaction to the article will come from insiders whose concern over “voter confidence” would trump qualities like accuracy and verifiability. The Times article won’t inspire confidence in the 2009 implementation of IRV but it will inspire more citizens to focus their attention on Aspen’s election methods.
Not mentioned are substantial public benefits of rank choice voting – among them the potential for non-party-affiliated candidates to receive valuable expressions of support, and a potential reduction in negative campaigning by candidates whose supporters are also willing to cast votes for non-obnoxious alternatives. The electorate benefits from a more textured expression of intent.
Published vote patterns allow more accurate diagnostic audits. Transparency benefits could be obtained from a conventional runoff method too – as long as the openness Aspen sought in May 2009 is extended and improved upon. Aspen should push its elected officials to pursue maximum accessibility to election records and best practice procedures.
IRV isn’t the explanation for most of the reported ruckus. It’s actually the less than helpful reaction of local officials to critical reports from observant citizens that escalated into a continuing saga. The same conflagration could have followed a conventional runoff election and will follow the next one regardless of voting system until remedies for already-revealed election weaknesses are implemented. Rather than reverting to a “familiar,” supposedly safe, and conventionally less transparent voting method, I suggest repairing the implementation of IRV with a meaningful majority threshold and real citizen verifiability. Then anticipate a much less likely runoff election when a real majority isn’t reached.
Aspen could hand count ranked paper ballots with accuracy, transparency and ease. Voters could write a preference number into a single box for each candidate. Election judges could sort piles of first choice votes by candidate. Then take the smallest pile of ballots and redistribute them by second choice, repeat for third, etc. until one pile contains half or more of all of the ballots, signifying the winner. If only two piles remain and the largest pile isn’t half of all the ballots then a runoff is needed.
Instead of discussing reasonable solutions, though, cynics are anonymously barfing onto blogs with statements like: “So now the Red Ant is writing pieces for the Aspen Times using the pen name ‘Aaron Hedge,'”
Stand up to bogus attacks by naysayers, Aspen Times. We may find our way back to democratic principles through your reporters’ integrity and the combined heavy lifting of civic volunteers.
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