Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Red Crayon Statistics

I know, I implied the previous post would be the last one about Minneapolis. But I can't help it. My first post on the subject implied that former interim elections official Patrick O'Connor was lying about the 2009 ranked-choice-voting-powered election in Minneapolis, as the official report (which he commissioned) contradicts his claims. But today, the exact same lie is being propagated by the author of the report!

I started to question my own sanity here. These guys really should know better, and no one could really expect to get away with such an obvious lie. Is it possible I'm the one who's wrong? But then I remembered how absolutely ludicrous it is to suggest that only one ballot out of nearly 50,000 could be spoiled. No system has ever been that accurate, and anything under 1% is considered a triumph of electoral vigilance.

But then I noticed the subtlety they're using here. Both O'Connor and Schulze talk about spoiled ballots earlier in their articles, but when they try to counter the complaints of excessive ballot spoilage under RCV, their specific claim is that only one ballot was "uncounted". Now, given the context of that claim, you might assume that "uncounted" and "spoiled" are being used as synonyms for each other. Nope! Let's check the report again!

Of the 45,968 total ballots cast, there were 1,888 spoiled ballots and 2,958 voter error ballots (2009 Election Statistics, n.d.), which indicates ballots with voter errors specific to Ranked Choice Voting, including overvote, repeat candidate, skipped ranking and undervote (Minneapolis Method for Hand-Counting RCV Ballot Sorter & Counter, n.d.). Comparatively, during the general municipal election in 2005, there were 755 spoiled ballots of the total 70,987 absentee and in-person voters (Voter Turnout and Registration, 2005). In 2009, there was only one ballot cast that was totally defective and not counted. This was a ballot where no ovals were filled in and a handwritten essay written in red crayon on it. Excluded from this analysis are any ballots not counted due to failure to comply with the rules regarding absentee ballots. These ballots were not opened to ascertain voter intent.
That is the "one ballot" they're talking about. There were 1,888 spoiled ballots, a more than 380% increase in spoilage rate over the previous election, but never mind that! Because only one guy wrote on their ballot in crayon that year, that means those 1,888 don't really count against anything.

The truth is, RCV nearly quadrupled the number of spoiled ballots in Minneapolis, and there would have been a ten-fold increase had the election been machine-counted rather than hand-counted. That alone aught to be enough to disqualify RCV as an election method, but there are plenty of other reasons for it, too.

I'm upgrading O'Connor's and Schulze's "damned lie" to "statistic".

1 comment:

  1. They're still learning...

    And spoilage only matters if they tilt the election. There's no good reason this necessarily is the case. Plus, in a close election, the spoiled ballots cd be redeemed...