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Voting method ill advised

Dear Editor:

I’ve been hearing the distant, gravely voice of Edward P. Benton recently. My 8th grade social studies teacher’s mantra was … “You study the past so you can make better decisions in the present and improve the future.”

Or something like that.



There are certainly plenty of lessons from history going unobserved today. The one on my mind at the moment is elections. Back in 1787 the 55 arguably most intelligent men in the United States met in Philadelphia and birthed our Constitution, and along with it the first version of our current national system for electing the President ” the Electoral College.

It was brand new. Nothing like it had existed before. It had never been tested and there was no historical reference for use as a waypoint in crafting its structure or controlling for its unanticipated consequences. A compromise system, it gave power to the states to create whatever method they desired to vote for their electors who would then vote for the President.




It was nothing short of a disaster.

A series of unintended consequences spurred by Alexander Hamilton’s nefarious manipulations led to unexpected results in 1796 as opponents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ended up serving together as President and Vice President, and in 1800, when the election was thrown to the House of Representatives for lack of a majority winner. It took 36 ballots over five days before Thomas Jefferson was narrowly elected days before Congress was to adjourn.

Constitutional crisis averted, just barely.

On Monday night, Aspen’s City Council will consider a new method of electing themselves called Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV for short. Without any specifics, way back in November of 2007, Aspen’s voters granted the city carte blanche to create whatever IRV system they desired. Hmmm. Sound familiar?

Over a year later, a committee consisting of a few citizens and two (presumably) incumbent candidates unveiled two muddled options. With antiseptic terms to describe them, they sound more like euthanization procedures, “sequential elimination” and “batch elimination,” than election systems.

From these options I understand a third “compromise” solution has emerged; a sort of hybrid “two vote batch elimination” system.

It’s brand new; a system that has never been used any place else before for multi-seat elections (like the Aspen City Council elections) and for which no historic reference exists for use as a “waypoint” to guide its development and avoid its unintended consequences. As you can imagine, rumors abound about the potential for Hamiltonian style manipulation. Sound familiar?

Technical in nature, the system requires that a custom, one of a kind software program be written in order to tabulate the votes. It is my understanding that Council are requiring no provisions for a secondary hand count or other method to confirm the results of this brand new election system that has never been used anywhere else in the Country and requires a custom software program. Sound familiar?

Our most sacred public process reduced to a black box? Hope I’m wrong.

What would Mr. Benton say? If we don’t heed the mistakes of the past they will haunt us. Aspen, prepare to be haunted.

Paul Menter

Basalt


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