-- Guest blogged by Joyce McCloy
Well there's a twist! Hopefully you weren't drinking coffee when you read the headline.
How often do you hear of a voting vendor saying they really really (really!!) do not want to break the law, but state officials are forcing them to? But that's exactly what's about to happen in North Carolina where the first statewide use of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) could produce, according to some, a "train wreck" this November.
Four years ago, the state legislature created new rules for special elections needed to fill vacancies in the state's appellate courts. They apply when an opening occurs on the bench after the primary but at least 60 days before the general election. If more than two candidates file to run, voters are asked to indicate their first, second and third choices on the ballot. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the winner is determined by adding the second- and third-choice votes.
But while election officials are mandated to run IRV elections, there is actually no state or federally certified software to tally Instant Runoff Voting on North Carolina's e-vote systems and the representative for the vendors, ES&S and PrintElect, says the companies "cannot be held responsible for issues as a result of IRV"...
North Carolina may have a voter guide for the IRV race and an IRV task force, but as of Sept 20, 2010, the state still has no IRV tallying procedures in place for counties which use touch-screen voting systems. Any procedures the state develops will be illegal unless they mandate hand counting paper ballots.
In an August 30 letter, the voting vendor warns that our voting system cannot legally tally instant runoff voting, and the vendor will not accept responsibility for an IRV related election fiasco. The letter to Gary Bartlett, Executive Director of the NC State Board of Elections, warns about the illegality of using our voting machines for this process...
*Printelect and ES&S will only take responsibility for and support tabulating the IRV contests individually. Methods for deciding a runoff winner by others will not be supported by Printelect or ES&S. This risk will be the sole responsibility of NCSBOE [North Carolina State Board of Elections] and the counties.
*IRV voting tabulation methods are not an EAC [U.S. Elections Assistance Commission] or state certified portion of our voting system and have not undergone the testing that would normally be required to receive these certifications.
Nonetheless, despite objections from the very companies whose hardware and software will tabulate the elections --- hardware and software that has failed many times in the past even on much simpler non-IRV elections --- Bob Phillips, an IRV advocate with Common Cause North Carolina, expressed a wildly optimistic view on how things will go in November, as quoted by AP: "It's going to be a reliable, accurate count ... I'm very comfortable with what I'm hearing so far."
Why does the voting vendor worry when Common Cause NC does not? Because the vendor is legally held to high standards set in 2005 to prevent disasters such as the one which occurred in NC during the 2004 general election when thousands of votes were simply eaten by faulty electronic voting systems, leading AP to report...
North Carolina's standards for voting systems are clear in that they must be tested and certified for use after any changes to them, in accordance with both state and federal standards, as specifically written into law following NC's 2004 election disaster...
(a) Only voting systems that have been certified by the State Board of Elections in accordance with the procedures and subject to the standards set forth in this section and that have not been subsequently decertified shall be permitted for use in elections in this State.
...The State Board may certify additional voting systems only if they meet the requirements of the request for proposal process set forth in this section...
(1) That the vendor post a bond or letter of credit to cover damages resulting from defects in the voting system. Damages shall include, among other items, any costs of
conducting a new election attributable to those defects.
(2) That the voting system comply with all federal requirements for voting systems.
A recent editorial in the Greensboro News and Record warns that "North Carolina's first statewide use of instant runoff voting could produce a train wreck in November."
The piece goes on to quote an election official, Guilford County Supervisor of Elections George Gilbert, who agrees, and adds: "It's no way to run a railroad."
In this case, even the voting machine companies, incredibly enough, agree. And, perhaps even more incredibly, we agree with them
But the state of NC never seems to learn, and doesn't seem to care.