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".

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Minneapolis Prediction

One more thing about Minneapolis: apparently, despite multiple ballots, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party wasn't able to decide on an endorsement among the six candidates interested in running for mayor under its party label. So all six will appear on the "choose three" ranked choice ballot, along with four other candidates. This makes it very likely, like in Oakland before, that the winner of this vote will not end up with more than 50% of the ballots cast, despite the claims of ranked choice supporters that it guarantees a majority win.

The way this happens is that many ballots will have all of their listed candidates eliminated, at which point the ballot is no longer considered to count towards determining a majority. This occurred for about 11% of the ballots in Oakland, except the final results weren't reported as "45%/44% with 11% exhausted", they were reported as "51%/49%". In other words, the final results were reported as if 13,000 voters didn't exist.

We'll see what happens, and how it's reported, in Minneapolis this November, but my money is on a similar outcome.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In Minneapolis, Someone's Not Being Truthful

UPDATE: I've figured out where O'Connor is getting his number from.

Way back in 2010, I wrote a post about the final, official, report for Minneapolis' inaugural Ranked Choice Vote, conducted in 2009. It was an entirely boring election with entirely predictable results, and RCV did no worse or better than any other election method would in such a situation. The most-damning part of the report though, was how RCV seemed to have caused a quadrupling in the percentage of spoiled ballots, from 1.06% to 4.1% (see page 18 of the report.)

So imagine my surprise when I see in my RSS feed an OpEd from the Minneapolis StarTribune claiming that only one single ballot was spoiled. And imagine my further surprise when I see that it was penned by Patrick O'Connor, Minneapolis' interim elections director during that 2009 election, the same Patrick O'Connor mentioned by name (on page 1) of the very report that so grandiosely contradicts his statements published today.

Did Mr. O'Connor simply not read the report he commissioned four years ago? Or is he intentionally spreading falsehoods about it? I think Minneapolis deserves to know.