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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

In a letter to the editor, Elizabeth Milias took me to task for offending her sensibilities with my column about getting my dachshund puppies’ toenails clipped. Sorry if I ruined your latte.

She suggested that explaining the “complex mathematical methodology that will be employed to determine the winners of our May elections would be a better and more pertinent subject for Aspen Times readers.”

“That is,” she adds snidely, “if she has the ability to explain what city officials are having a hard time doing themselves.”



This is a challenge I am happy to take on because, despite the above hyperbole regarding complexity, the IRV (instant runoff voting) system as addressed by the IRV task force (of which I am a member) is perfectly simple to understand. It is not rocket science, high math or even low math.

Anyone can replicate the method at home, with a few sheets of paper and a little bit of patience. For those less self-sufficient, a tutorial of sorts is being held at 5 tonight at City Hall.




The system is perceived to be more complicated than it really is because late in the process some members of the task force came up with an “easier way,” which unfortunately has some loopholes in it. Mick Ireland, Jim True, John Worcester, Barry Crook, Janice Vos Caudill and Kathryn Koch were the deciding votes, with Jack Johnson, who initiated the IRV ballot measure (which passed resoundingly), in opposition. I was not at the meeting but support the system that is espoused by Johnson and FairVote, and is used in other communities.

The waters were further muddied by the Red Ants (Marilyn Marks and Milias ” red herrings would be more descriptive), who opposed IRV all along and are doing their best to make it seem so hopelessly confusing that we should just drop the whole thing and go back to runoff elections, which is what the public clearly did NOT want.

Here’s what you do. Make a grid of eight candidates and beside it make eight columns labeled from 1-8 in which to rank them. Xerox 100 copies or more. Then fill them out as if you were 100 different voters, keeping in mind that the Secretary of State has established rules for spoiled ballots, and pretend you are Kathryn Koch counting them.

Now, make eight different piles for each of the candidates, and place all the first choice ballots in the proper piles. If Marilyn Marks gets 10 first votes, those ballots go in her pile. If Elizabeth Milias gets 15 first place votes, those ballots go in her pile, etc. It moves along faster than you might think.

You keep a tally of the number of votes and, if no one gets a majority, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Say Dwayne Romero loses. You take his ballots and reassign them to the candidates the voters ranked second. Keep eliminating the loser and reassigning until you have a winner (half the number of votes cast plus one).

Since we elect two council people, you now start all over again but this time you take the winner’s first-place ballots and redistribute them by their SECOND choices onto the piles (otherwise, the winner’s second choices would never be counted, a flaw in the easy way), follow the same procedure of eliminating the lowest vote-getter and voila, you have the second winner.

Try it, you’ll like it. Have a neighborhood party and start counting, or go to City Hall tonight.


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