IRV passes first test
May 8, 2009
So Aspen’s first experiment with instant runoff voting is over. And though there are reservations and doubts among many around town, this cantankerous town’s first go-round with IRV appears to have been a relative success.
For a variety of very good reasons, elections are all but sacred in this country. Casting one’s ballot is a deeply personal act and perhaps the most profound direct expression of democracy, so it’s vital that voters have trust in the systems used to count their ballots.
In November 2007, Aspenites voted to adopt an IRV system, mainly to avoid the time, expense and hassle of a second election campaign every other spring. And, no matter how we might feel about the results of the May 5 election, or even how IRV performed, we ought to be patient and not pass judgment based on this first run. In other words, voters and politicians in 2009 must respect the will of the voters in 2007.
We’ll admit to being confused about the inner workings of IRV. Despite having heard multiple explanations from city officials and their consultants, the system remains a bit of a “black box” to us, and that’s an unnerving way to conduct an election.
Still, in the nine-candidate City Council race, the IRV system did select Derek Johnson and Torre, who were the top vote-getters in the first round of counting. Intuitively speaking, that seems fair.
And though numerous voters were confused about their ballots ” hence the 168 “spoiled ballots” tossed out by election judges ” city officials said all those voters obtained fresh ballots and completed the process correctly. There were 16 people who skipped the mayor’s race and 23 who cast “invalid” ballots in the council race. So, if we take city officials at their word, it appears few, if any, Aspen voters were in any way disenfranchised by the IRV system.
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The problem is, plenty of people in this town will not take city officials at their word, at least not right away, and public trust in the electoral system is vital. So we were encouraged that the city went the extra mile on Thursday and conducted an audit to make sure that the ballots matched the computer system’s tabulation. The audit showed that at least that part of the system was 100 percent accurate. The city also has made public the open source code so anyone can download the computer program and test Tuesday’s instant runoff tabulations.
We appreciate the additional checks and balances, as well as the brain damage undoubtedly acquired by those involved. But it’s appropriate, especially in a town that prizes anger and argument, to take extra steps to ensure the validity of Aspen’s first foray into instant runoff voting.
We must preserve the public’s trust in our local elections.