Friday, I took vacation time from work and spent the day listening and testifying at the Oct 27th meeting of the Joint committee on Ethics and Election in Topeka. I want to thank all the people who have donated to the Show Me The Votes Foundation. While the travel expenses are small, the knowledge that I don’t have to take on the costs personally and that I am speaking for others as well as myself provides significant motivation for me to do this.
The majority of the day was scheduled with people from non-profit agencies talking about the joys of Ranked Choice Voting. They were all very professional and did a decent job of covering the cons as well as the pros. I actually found it all fairly interesting. It turns out that one of the unintended consequences of ranked choice voting was a decrease in negative campaigning because insulting an opponent supported by a voter doesn’t incline that voter to making you their second choice. A big plus for the method in my opinion, but that opinion was not shared by all of the committee members.
One senator was confused by a technical detail regarding a theoretical situation that could result in a sub-optimal outcome (one of the cons presented). I don’t think the presenter quite managed to understand his confusion well enough to alleviate it. My take on it was that the senator didn’t realize that in the ranked choice system, a guy who is ranked 3rd is presumed to beat the guy ranked 6th if they were in a head-to-head match-up. This is a reasonable assumption in ranked choice voting because we are referring to the choices of an individual voter. Election outcomes are well established as potentially intransitive in 3-way versus head-to-head matchups, so it was not an unreasonable question for the senator to pose. (Intransitive relations are situations where A > B and B > C does NOT imply A > C)
Understanding and illuminating those underlying assumptions can be difficult. This case involved a deeply buried mathematical assumption about the elemental structure of the data and the answer that justifies it relates to a technical detail regarding the data collection in this context. I have been on both sides of such mathematical confusion, so I could sympathize with both. It’s not easy to identify the buried assumption that isn’t shared.
There were two other Kansans, both with math backgrounds, who testified about ranked choice voting. I was nominally in favor of it. Ranked choice voting is a method with a higher probability of providing a government representative of the majority will of the voters. It’s also more complicated to compute and may require substantially more time to arrive at a winner. As far as I’m concerned, it’s putting lipstick on a pig if they don’t address the elephant the room regarding voting machines, which is what I was there to tell them about.
I told the committee flat out that my research, currently under peer review, show that our machines are being manipulated and they needed to do something about that. I could be proved wrong with an audit, except … no audits allowed.
I complained about the fact that in Sedgwick County we have a brand new expensive voting machine system with a paper trail. Our election officials insist that without a legislative solution, those ballots may never be opened and reviewed by human eyes to verify the accuracy of the count. Which is pretty much what the appeals court judge told me back in September when I asked what voters could do to hold our officials accountable. I think I made it clear to the committee that the current situation was unacceptable.
They mentioned an audit bill that got passed last year. I made it clear that audits were not enough! We need transparent accurate counts election night*. Audits only tell us how off the results were and predict if outcomes were impacted. They don’t fix anything and they don’t prevent anything. We have to do that part too.
I am writing the ideas I hope I conveyed. I’m more eloquent on the internet that I am in person. I was dorky and awkward as always. I’ve accepted that about myself and my usual audience (engineers and/or math students) are fairly tolerant of my missing social cues as long as my math is good. But this was not my usual audience.
I got chided by the Chair about speaking off-topic. I got a lecture by Senator Miller about the unreliability of exit polls – which included a well-delivered “ma’am” that shut me off when I tried to interrupt him. Senator Faust-Goudeau, who had encouraged me to come, publicly thanked me for my testimony.
A few ladies from the League of Women Voters and Representative Elizabeth Bishop from my district came and sat in on my speech for moral support. All-in-all, it went about as well as talking about the elephant in the room usually does.
Rather than making a break for the door and heading home as soon as I finished my testimony, I swallowed my introvert instinct and hung around until the session was over and spoke with some of the committee members afterwards.
Sen. Miller expressed how he agrees with me about the audits. I acknowledged that audits are better. They were my first choice after all. He doesn’t think that exit polls should be taken seriously but acknowledged it’s the best data available to Kansas voters.
Senator Faust-Goudeau asked me to help prepare a bill to get the transparency we need to have confidence in election outcomes. She has given me a spark of hope that if I work at it, change might happen. She is one awesome lady! We are very lucky to have her working for Kansans.
*I wish I had thought to say whenever the winners are announced. One of the cons of the Ranked Choice Voting system is that it may require a couple of days to collect and compute the winner of a statewide race done with that system in place. It’s a drawback I could live with to get more representative outcomes in our elections.