Thursday, June 15, 2006

IRV Cost Estimates by Prof. Anderson-Connolly

I have had the opportunity to review the Auditor’s estimate for the costs of implementing instant runoff voting in Pierce County. I discussed the figures with national experts in the field who were involved in the implementation of IRV in other localities. Below are my comments on the Auditor’s budget, informed by these discussions.

Development of Software $350,000.00

Comment: As the Auditor noted at her testimony to the CRC, there is free software for IRV elections readily available. In fact, this software was used in Burlington’s recent IRV election. Has the Auditor rejected this option? If so, what are the reasons? Is $350,000 the amount that our voting equipment vendor, Sequoia, asked for? Did the Auditor negotiate with Sequoia, with the knowledge of the free alternative, in order to keep the cost down?

Additional Ongoing Maintenance Charges (10% of development) $35,000.00

Comment: Who is making these charges? What goods or services will the county receive?

Additional Printing Costs $150,000.00

Comment: The ballot in November will be somewhat longer because more columns will be used for the rankings but, on the other hand, the ballot in August/September will be shorter because most county offices will not be on the primary. Previously the Auditor's Elections Department reported that the September 2004 election cost $81,577 for printing for the entire election. Where is the reduction in expenses for eliminating the primary for the affected races? Why would the printing costs almost triple as a result of doing some offices via IRV?

Return Postage Costs $150,000.00

Comment: As above, there are both savings and costs. For example, in the September 2004 primary, the Auditor reported spending a total of $34,596 for postage. Why would postage expenses be over five times the September 2004 costs? The Auditor should provide the primary and general election components. The primary expenses should represent a cost savings due to lighter mailings. The general election could be higher, but not five times.

Additional Full Time Staff (addition of two FTEs) $120,000.00
Additional Extra Hire Staff $45,000.00

Comments: San Francisco did not hire any extra staff despite (1) having a larger population, (2) having a large non-English speaking population, and (3) being the first city/county to run an IRV election. Why does Pierce County need this staff given our smaller population and the availability of a system that has worked elsewhere? During her testimony the Auditor assured the CRC that her office could run an IRV election if the people voted for it. No mention was made at that time that additional staff would be required.

Development of Rules and Procedures $100,000.00

Comment: The rules are approximately 2 pages long and can be largely borrowed from SF, Alameda County, and Burlington. What specifically will require $100,000?

Voter Education Campaign/Staff Training $2,000,000.00

Comment: In 2004, when Pierce County changed from the blanket primary to our current pick-a-party system, the Auditor spent $97,843 on voter education and outreach on the change. Why should voter education be 20 times larger for IRV than for the pick-a-primary change? A description of IRV in the voter guide, ads in the News Tribune, and an additional hour of training of poll workers will suffice. Furthermore we have successful voter outreach materials from the other IRV cities/counties that we can adopt instead of developing our own. It is expected that the news media also will provide free publicity in the form of news coverage and public service announcements. The Pierce County web site could include information about instant runoff voting, including an already designed flash animation about how voters rank their ballots, for a minimal cost. In addition, candidates themselves will have a vested interest in telling voters to rank their candidates; this has certainly been true in other places that have used instant runoff voting.

Based on the Burlington experience this year, voter education should cost no more than 25 cents per resident, or around $200,000 for Pierce County. The Auditor’s estimate is inflated by a factor of 10. How is this $2 million figure arrived at?

General Comments:

Although all of the errors seem to be cost overestimates or ignored savings, I am hopeful that these were all honest mistakes instead of an attempt to influence a legislative decision, something we can agree would be clearly inappropriate for the Auditor’s office.

Perhaps the Auditor had insufficient time to research the San Francisco and Burlington IRV implementations. To produce a more accurate follow-up, the Auditor might wish to contact the following individuals:

· Caleb Kleppner (

Consultant for implementation of instant runoff voting in San Francisco and Burlington, Vermont.

· Steven Hill (

Director, Political Reform Program, New America Foundation, led the effort to implement instant runoff voting in San Francisco

· Terry Bouricius (

Consultant for implementation of instant runoff voting in Burlington, Vermont

I am certain that we all hope that the Charter Review Commissioners and the voters in November will have accurate information upon which to make their decisions. A successful democracy requires a properly informed electorate.


Prof. Richard Anderson-Connolly


At 6:15 AM, Blogger mark san souci said...

Professor Anderson-Connolly,
While you are being polite in expressing your hope that the gross overestimates are honest mistakes, we all know why the estimates are exponentially higher than reality-the auditor is a product of the same system that is being challenged, and she is a partisan politician, not wanting the present system to change, and wanting to keep the status quo. Therefore, whatever gross overestimates can be put out there to the public to misrepresent the costs, will be out there. Thanks for the reality check to the auditor's misrepresentation.

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pick-a-party primary requires multiple ballots be mailed to the absentee voters. Since IRV will eliminate the primary and multiple ballots for affected offices, the costs should be lower than for the pick-a-party elections.

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Those cost estimates from the auditor are incredible. We're not talking about an $11 billion Seattle Monorail here, this is a change in election procedures.

A friend of mine noticed the cost of educating the voters at $2,000,000. The League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County has supported the change to IRV for ages now and would be a major component in voter education.

Those numbers are just astounding.


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