Hawaii’s Instant Runoff Voting Legislation – Veto Needed

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BY REBECCA MERCURI PHDIn the aftermath of the controversial 2000 Presidential Election, the Help America Vote Act was enacted, which (among other initiatives) provided funds for the procurement of new voting systems.

Many states rushed out to buy electronic voting equipment that afforded no way to perform an independent recount from ballots that the voters themselves had validated for correctness. Instead, Hawai’i did the right thing by evaluating the pros and cons of the available products, ultimately settling on a largely paper-based system. This enables votes to easily and simply be counted, using the traditional 1+1=2 method, if the computer tallies are questioned or a manual recount becomes necessary.


Unfortunately, this will not continue to be the case if Governor Abercrombie fails to veto H.B. 638 which has recently passed both the Hawai’i House and Senate. This dangerous bill came to the floor without ample opportunity for opposition testimony. It allows for the introduction of a technique known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which is confusing to voters and makes hand-counting virtually impossible, thus increasing the state’s reliance on proprietary and unexaminable computer software for generating its election results.

Your legislators voted to pass H.B. 638 because they believed that somehow this method would make elections “more fair.” The rogue that falsely convinced them of this is Rob Richie, Executive Director of the coyly-named FairVote, a well-funded, tax-exempt group that would like to add your state to their list of conquests, so that they can continue to hawk this nonsense to others.

Quite deceptively, H.B. 638 mentions locations in which IRV (sometimes in variations known as “ranked choice” or “proportional representation”) has been adopted, but fails to cite the places where it has been rescinded after proving problematic.

Governor Neil Abercrombie needs to follow the lead of Governor Jim Douglas who last year repealed IRV in Burlington VT. As well, IRV has been repealed or rejected in Pierce County WA, Aspen CO, and Cary NC.

IRV actually does not accomplish what H.B. 638 suggests, that it somehow “allows all voters to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping to elect their least favorite candidate.” Not only can the least favorite candidate be elected with this method, but it will be completely non-obvious why this has happened when indeed it does occur. This is because complicated rules will be applied, such as the ones described in the Bill, as follows:

“The county clerk shall transfer the first choice votes for the defeated candidate or candidates to the candidates who received the next highest ranking on each ballot containing first choice votes for the defeated candidate or candidates and shall count the votes of each remaining candidate as revised by the transferred votes. If after the first round of transferring votes no candidate has received a majority of votes cast for the office, the process of eliminating candidates, transferring votes, including previously transferred votes, to candidates still in the race, and tabulating revised results shall continue until one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. If after the fourth round of tabulation no candidate has received a majority of the votes cast, then the candidate with the most first choice votes following the fourth round of tabulation shall be declared the winner, regardless of whether that candidate has received a majority of the votes cast. ”

What this means is that the county clerks will most certainly not be in charge of calculating the votes. Rather, they will defer these tasks to computers, whose correctness in determining the results cannot be independently confirmed nor ascertained.

Needless to say, the Hawai’ian Senators and Representatives could not have fully understood the ramifications of the obfuscated election process that they have decided to foist upon an unsuspecting public. If any of them claim otherwise, just ask them to straightforwardly explain how to prepare an IRV ballot, such that it is absolutely certain that one is not helping their least favorite candidate win. In fact, how to do so is not at all clear, as it is when you vote singly for the person you want to be elected.

But it is not too late to thwart this attempt to throw your ballots into the wind. If Governor Abercrombie is encouraged to veto the bill when it comes across his desk, the election process will remain straightforward and Hawai’ians will continue to be able to count their own votes, even without the assistance of computers, whenever it is necessary or desirable to do so. Your county clerks need to feel confident that they will always be able to validate the results as being proper and correct, so that they can ensure that your elections truly remain fair. IRV needs to be sent packing before it becomes law.

For further information on this subject, see: https://www.instantrunoffvoting.us/

Rebecca Mercuri, Ph.D. has been researching, writing and testifying about vote tabulation systems since 1989. Reach her at mercuri@acm.org





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