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March 06, 2009

Wright Wants Recount in Burlington Mayor's Race

Republican Kurt Wright informed city officials verbally this morning that he wants a recount in the Burlington mayor's race, largely to ensure that the city's instant-runoff voting system worked properly.

"I don't expect this to change the outcome of this race, but I do believe that we should take the opportunity to feel comfortable about the process and the system," said Wright.

On election eve, Wright was ahead of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss in the first two instant runoff rounds, but lost in the third — and final — round after the other candidates' second, third and fourth place rankings were tabulated. For a complete, ward-by-ward breakdown of the mayor's race, click Download 2009BurlingtonMayorIRVbyward (PDF file).

Wright said he'll send an official letter by midday. The recount will take place either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of next week. 

The recount will be conducted by the Board of Civil Authority, which is comprised of the 14-member City Council and the Mayor, said Jonathan Leopold, the city's chief administrative officer. Because Mayor Bob Kiss, Wright, the city council president, and Democratic councilor Andy Montroll were candidates in the race, they will not be allowed to take part in the recount.

Wright said he was ready to move on and not ask for a recount. However, Wright said he was overwhelmed with emails, phone calls, and well-wishers stopping him on the street — all urging him to ask for the recount.

"This is only the second election that this system has been in place, and I think some people still don't understand how it is that the candidate who got the most first place votes in the first round and then the second round can then lose in the third round."

Wright said he's already extending his apologies to fellow councilors, who will be the ones charged with overseeing the recount.

"This is not about me and I do not expect to be elected, however if there was some egregious error and I’m elected, great," Wright said with a chuckle. 

Wright said he has been urged to lead a citizen petition effort to dump IRV as the way to elect the mayor, but has rebuffed such calls.

"The citizens voted for IRV and if they choose to get rid of it, that process should be citizen-driven, too, and not encouraged by me," he said.

The IRV recount would be completed by hand, and the process would involve a sorting process of creating separate piles for each candidates' first-place votes, and then subsequently look at the eliminated candidates' second, third, fourth, and fifth place selections and adding them to the piles of the two candidates with the most votes, said Leopold.

Since it's already known that Kiss and Wright will have the most first-place votes, it should be easy to quickly sort through the votes of the other three candidates and recount the stacks, Leopold said.

The only costs incurred by the city would be the staff time devoted to setting things up for the BCA, which Leopold said would be minimal. Councilors would not be paid separately as it is part of their duties as councilors, for which they receive an annual stipend of $3000. The count itself could take as many as six hours to complete, Leopold estimated.

IRV supporters say the system worked just as it was designed — to have a series of instant runoffs until the candidate with the most support crossed the 50-percent threshold.

Here's how it broke down election eve: In the first round, Wright had 2951 (33%) votes to Kiss' 2585 (29%) and Montroll's 2063 (23%), and in the second round Wright had 3294 (37%) to Kiss' 2981 (34%) and Montroll's 2554 (29%) after Independent Dan Smith and Green Party candidate James Simpson's votes were eliminated and their second preferences divvied up among the other three candidates. In the final round, Montroll was eliminated and 1332 of his preferences went to Kiss, while 767 went to Wright. That put Kiss on top with 4313 (51.5%) and Wright with 4061 (48%).

Interestingly enough, Kiss had compiled more votes than Wright after votes had been counted in six of the city's seven wards. It was Wright's strong showing in Ward 7 that put him over the top. His strong showing in the other New North End ward — Ward 4 — allowed him to make up the deficit in other parts of the city. In fact, both Kiss and Montroll bested Wright in the city's other five wards.

UPDATE: Mayor Bob Kiss is out of town and unavailable for comment, said spokesman Joe Reinert. "He feels the numbers don't suggest the need for a recount," said Reinert. "All this will do is cost city time and city money, but its certainly his prerogative to make the request."

Reinert added that the way the results have been portrayed by some is false: "This was not a one-lap race, or a two-lap race, it was a three-lap race and as such all that matters is who was ahead after three laps. I don't think its been helpful for people to say that Kurt was 'winning' after the first around because that doesn't exactly describe the way it works. There may be other ways to understand the how the IRV system works, but it doesn't necessarily require a recount."

It's nice to know that the recount won't be a burden to the taxpayers but I still fail to see how it will help voters better understand the system. a recount is a recount without explanation or education. Isn't there a more appropriate way to help the voters "understand how it is that the candidate who got the most first place votes in the first round and then the second round can then lose in the third round."
I'm not opposed to a recount I just fail to see how it will fulfill Mr Wright's intended goal.

"All this will do is cost city time and city money, but its certainly his prerogative to make the request."

It will do a lot more than that. It will make a lot of us feel better about the integrity of the result- something you cannot put a price on.

I think it is crucial that ballots are tabulated according to class: That is, how many were Smith/Montroll/Kiss, how many were Montroll/Smith/Wright, etc. Tha tis much more important then gross numbers by ward. Only then will folks truly understand how IRV worked.

Also, we could then find out if the following example of the nonmonotonicity paradox from Approval Voting by Steven Brams, PhD, NYU Dept of Politics occurred:

Assume there are four classes of voters (total: 17 voters) ranking three candidates:
1. 6: abc
2. 5: cab
3. 4: bca
4. 2: bac
Because nobody has a majority of 9 votes on the 1st round, c, the candidate with the fewest first place votes (5), is eliminated. His 5 votes go to a, who wins with 11 (6 + 5) votes.

Now assume the 2 class (4) voters change their preference ranking to the following:
1. 6: abc
2. 5: cab
3. 4: bca
4. 2: abc
Again, nobody has a majority of 9 votes on the 1st round. Because b gets the fewest first-place votes (4), he is eliminated, and his 4 votes go to c, who wins with 9 (5 + 4) votes.

In summary, candidate (a) wins when he is ranked second by the class (4) voters, but he loses to (c) when he is ranked first by these voters.

Oh, come on Joe, This isn't gonna take too long or cost that much and it will do a lot to explain/instill confidence in IRV and the process... that doesn't seem like a bad thing.

I definitely agree on the 2nd paragraph though, the language people have been using is pretty ridiculous, Kurt led in the 1st and 2nd rounds he did not win in any way whatsoever.

Any need to do a recount doesn't have anything to do with instant runoff voting. The rules are transparently clear. The last place finisher is eliminated, and ballots listing that candidate first are added to the votes for the candidate listed second. You then eliminate the new last-place finisher and re-allocate those ballots and so on.

At the end of the day you have a perfect reflection of what voters would have done on an Election Day if given a straight-up choice between Kiss and Wright -- and Kiss wins by 3%.

I don't know what Wright expects to learn from a recount. he won't learn about instant runoff voting, as the results already make it very clear that what happened was that Andy Montroll's backers by a large margin preferred Bob Kiss to him.

I know losers have a hard time handling defeats, but c'mon, get over it!

Any need to do a recount doesn't have anything to do with instant runoff voting.

False. For me this is an important verification of the new mechanics involved in employing IRV. We used to run ballots through a "scan-tron" at the polling places and that was it.

Now mayoral ballots are captured on memory cards in each ward, transported to city hall, aggregated in one machine and then tabulated in another. This introduces a number of new potential failure points in the chain of the votes' custody that weren't there before.

I voted for Bob Kiss as my first choice in this election and the last one, and I am really glad this recount is happening. I lobbied Kurt to do it and I promised him I would vigorously defend him against these types of charges. So here we are.

It's not sour grapes. He's responding to the desires of so many of us who would like to see human eyes count paper ballots.

I agree that a recount makes sense, if only to make sure that the machine/computer tabulations are indeed correct. Verification seems in order.

seems like the kiss spokesman should just graciously welcome the recount rather than sounding annoyed that some people want to double check the numbers? the only thing worse than a sore loser, is an arrogant winner.

A previous poster, JB, sees no need for the recount since it's clear that Kurt Wright lost on the third round because "Andy Montroll's backers by a large margin preferred Bob Kiss to him." Now, that is how the Free Press reported it, but that is not correct.

If you look at the numbers, you see that Montroll got 2063 first-preference votes. In the third round, when we were down to the two finalists, 2099 votes were allocated to Kiss and Wright. Also--across the board, there were voters who voted only for one candidate. This was true of the Montroll voters as well. If 15% of Montroll voters, voted only for Montroll, there would have been only 1750 Montroll votes to distribute. So, the 2099 votes allocated in the "final" runoff included votes from ballots that had Smith or Simpson ranked first, and Kiss or Wright ranked third. The outcome of the final round ALSO reflects the preferences of the Smith and Simpson voters.

It is fairly clear to me that very few of us really understand how the system works. When I was involved as Chair of the Charter Change Committee, sheperding IRV through the process, I bought the argument that people don't have to understand how the voting system works, they just need to understand how to mark their ballots.

My view has changed. I think it IS important for voters to understand how our voting system works. Otherwise, how can they have confidence in the outcome of elections? I hope that the Council (and I will be involved in the recount) can work with Channel 17 to produce an educational video that will help build understanding of how vote counting works with IRV.

Finally, I would note that when we were studying IRV at the Council level, we never got into the kinds of issues raised in Chris Roy's posting.

A reader tried to post these comments, and had trouble getting past the authentication field, so I will post them for him as I think they add to the discussion (and I don't need to restrict the good debate to my Facebook page).

They come from Jack McCullough, who blogs at Green Mountain Daily and has a funny post up right now about another recount being requested.

Here is a link to Jack's recent post at GMD (even though he didn't link to our Blurt recount coverage and opted for the Freeps, we'll oblige the link here - LOL):

Here are his comments:

I think there are good reasons to conclude that monotonicity is a bogus objection.

In order to emphasize the appearance of a paradox, criticism of IRV based on non-monotonicity is frequently presented in a misleading way, along the following lines: “Having more voters rank candidate Andrea first, can cause Andrea to switch from being a winner to being a loser.” This is not correct, however. It is not the fact that Andrea gets more votes that causes her to lose. In fact getting more first preferences, by itself, can never cause a candidate to lose with IRV. With regards to additional voters casting votes that rank Andrea as the top choice, IRV is indeed monotonic.

People like me who live outside Burlington also have an interest in this recount. It will help us better understand how IRV works and whether it makes sense for statewide elections. I'm particularly curious about the 566 votes not included in the final tally. Were these "exhausted" because of bullet voting? or ranking of only two or three candidates not including Kiss and Wright? The voters who filled out these ballots missed an opportunity to influence the final outcome, possibly because they didn't understand how IRV works.

It seems to me that the recount won't calm any fears or superstitions about the IRV. Rather it will just give those "conspiracy theorists" (which I think only consists of maybe 10 people) more ammo against this and future elections. I would rather see time and money put into an "educate the electorate" campaign so people truly know how the IRV works. I do think the current web site which animates several different outcomes of an IRV system is pretty clear, but if it doesn't quite do the trick then it should be re-visited.

Personally I think it is a system that works especially within the city's 50% plus one rule for the mayoral election. The alternatives consist of time, money and court proceedings.

Can anyone explain one technical point to me?

All the stories I've read seem to assume that the first round eliminated the two bottom candidates: both the Green candidate, who got around 1% of the vote, and Dan Smith. Why wouldn't this be done in two rounds, with the guy who came in last being eliminated in the first round, the guy who came in second to last eliminated in the second round, and so forth?

Jane Knodell, the "issues" C. Roy is raising are entirely bogus.

First off they assume we, and not the voter, will determine how the vote is cast.

Secondly no matter the phony scenario, the final outcome is a reflection of how individual voters cast their votes and wanted them counted.

For ever Burlington voter who listed Kiss as less than their first choice and didn't list Wright at all ... why their ballots were counted just as they wanted them counted.

There is no paradox here. There is only the voter's intent.

One thing that is perfectly clear, but that people ned to understand, is that no matter how many choices you make, your highest choice who remains in the running is always the one your vote will go to.
Let's take two examples:
1. The only candidate you wanted was Kurt Wright, and no other candidate is acceptable to you, so you bullet voted for him. As long as he was in the running, your vote would be counted for him. Since he stayed in the running all the way to the end, your vote was always counted as a vote for Wright.
On the other hand, if the only candidate who was acceptable to you was James Simpson, and you found the idea of adding any support to any other candidate intolerable, you might have bullet voted for Simpson. Your vote was counted for Simpson in the first round, and as soon as your only candidate was eliminated your ballot was not counted for any other candidate.
2. You filled out a full slate. Let's say your choices were in this order:
In the first round your vote went to Montroll. In the second round Montroll was still in the running, so your vote still went to Montroll. In the third round [sic], Montroll was out, so the voting procedure was to look at your down ballot choices. Your second choice was Smith, so he would have gotten your vote, except that he was also out, so your next choice was Kiss. Thus, in the deciding round, your vote went to Kiss. In other words, you had already decided that you preferred Kiss over all the other remaining candidates, so you got what you wanted: if you couldn't have any candidate you preferred over Kiss, you got to cast your vote for Kiss.


Thank you for deciding which issues are legitimate, and which are "entirely bogus." Some folks out there, however, may reserve the right to hold their own views as to what is, and is not, important when it comes to a civic right as important as voting.

You will note that I did not indicate in my post that the monotonicity issue I raised happened here -- I simply observed that this would be an opportunity to explore such concerns with real ballots in a real election. Last I checked, information is a good thing, and is the foundation for real knowledge.

If IRV is as splendiferous as its supporters claim, they should welcome the opportunity for it to be shown as such for all to see. In fact, some IRV supporters have taken that approach, and I applaud them. Others, however, take on the character of the Wizard of Oz, gesticulating behind his illusionary machine, imploring all to ignore the man behind the curtain.

At the end of the day, regardless of one's views of IRV, the fact that the candidate finishing 2nd among 1st choices and 3rd among 2nd choices ended up winning certainly warrants lifting the hood and taking a look at what lies underneath. What's the worry?

For more information on some potential problems with IRV identified by others, see:

I send this along to provide information, not because I necessarily agree with every point made in this document.

This has been a great debate so far, and not to drag this off into another found this link:

It's an essay ("Monotonicity and IRV — Why the Monotonicity Criterion is of Little Import") written by Terry Bouricius about IRV and monotonicity. He might not assuage some critics of the system, but it does add another perspective.

And, as I noted in the discussion on Facebook, I was reminded by a caller on The Mark Johnson Show that IRV is very similar to what exists in any number of towns across Vermont on Town Meeting Day. I can fondly recall some of these votes from my days as a reporter (and resident) in the Northeast Kingdom where traditional town meetings are a fixture.

It's called the "exhaustive ballot" method and is used by many towns to elect town officials by ballot (at the meeting rather than secret, so-called Australian ballot).

Here is what has been allowed under state law for generations, and can be found Title 17 section 2660, which reads in part: "If no person has obtained a majority by the end of the third vote, the moderator shall announce that the person receiving the least number of votes in the last vote and in each succeeding vote shall no longer be a candidate, and the voting shall continue until a candidate receives a majority."

Keep up the great discussion and look forward to more comments.

First off, Shay, thanks for this and also to the others for a good discussion.

Haik, about Kurt's request: "He's responding to the desires of so many of us who would like to see human eyes count paper ballots." Yeah, I agree. It's as simple as that.

Jack McC, about the IRV process: "Why wouldn't this be done in two rounds, with the guy who came in last being eliminated in the first round, the guy who came in second to last eliminated in the second round, and so forth?"

That's how I thought it was supposed to be. I had the same question on Election night and couldn't get a reasonable answer.

Anyway, I'm pleased that the recount is happening!

I believe that, after the first round of voting, the second/third place votes are applied from all those candidates for whom it is mathematically impossible to win. Glad to see the recount happening.

Please take a look at the IRV debate at Charity Tensel's She's Right blog too. Lots of interesting/good points to read on all sides...

Thanks for the link to Charity's site. Owen Mulligan just sent me a link to his new blog, Blabulous, where he's compiled a list of where the IRV debate is alive and well in the Vermont blogosphere. Give Owen's site a read, too, folks. Check it out here:

I was surprised by the BFP report that Montroll got the most total first/second place votes. That's impressive - and he could (perhaps should) be pissed.

Great discussion. Sorry I did not get here sooner.

A few thoughts.

1) I welcome the recount as I think it will verify the computer tabulations. That is essentially all it will do. We have a paper back-up for a reason (maybe Ohio should have too...then we would not have such mistrust in Diebold).

2) we are already gleaning the follow up data (as per Free Press today) with respect to the various ways that folks cast their ballots. Of course the Freeps story did radically twist the info...but that is another story.

3) From that story, we learn that by far, more people that voted for Kurt cast "bullet" votes than any other. In part we know that because 93% of the voters participated in the "final round" and yet the paper reported that 37% of the people bullet voted. Those remaining bullets were either Kiss or Wright 1st choice voters. Considering how many voters bulleted for Curley 3 years ago (versus other candidates), it is pretty clear that a Kurt, or more crasly a "Republican" leaning voter simply did not want to participate in deciding who of the other candidates should be mayor if Kurt were eliminated (which he was not). Also, like Andy voters, more Kiss voters would likely have supported someone like Andy over someone like Kurt and therefore would have participated.

4) Which also leads to the issue of 1st and 2nd place votes being added together. That is a totally off base calculation as folks votes only count once per ballot. What the Free Press article showed me (along with the election night results) is that Andy's votes (that continued) split about 2-1 for Bob. The only thing the 1st and 2nd add up does is tell me that Bob's voters split more lopsidedly for Andy over Kurt (but they were never counted as Bob stayed in until the end).

5) The reason (further explained) that Simpson and Smith were eliminated in the same round is that mathmatically had all of Simpsons votes gone to Smith, Smith still would have been last. A computer can do that far faster than we hand counting people can. But essentially that is what happens. In the round, all candidates that have no chance to move up in position relative to the others gets eliminated.

In closing. There was a nobel laureate who proved that no voting system ever can 100% reflect the overall will of the voters in every circumstance. However, this system has been chosen by the national political science association (I might have the name wrong) as their method for electing their president because it is the most accurate. What has also been shown is this system most reflects what voters are used to; one vote per person per round and run-offs if no one gets 50%.

Great discussion. I think the recount will prove the computer system reflected the voters wishes. We are learning more about voter patterns (the data is out there now). But in the end, this saved a run-off election (between Bob and Kurt who were the top two vote receivers) with lower turnout and more expense, as no one received 40% (the old Burlington law).

Also, no one (including Bob) received an overwhelming mandate for their perspective on the issues.

Representative Zuckerman is correct. The city was able to save a bunch of money by avoiding a real run off between the candidates. Anything to save time and cut corners makes sense.

Also, Zuckerman, your work as the Chair of the House Agricultural Committee was atrocious. You helped contribute to the deterioration of the Vermont way of life we see today on farms across the state. You should be ashamed.

Oh, dear god, people are reading Sam Hemingway and believing him. The point is, Montroll was not the first choice of the electorate. He has nothing to be pissed about. Because he was third in the voting his second place votes are redistributed. It's not surprising that they would go overwhelmingly for Kiss.

@ MacEntyre:
Your first paragraph was on point and relevant to the discussion, although phrased in an unnecessarily hostile tone.
Your second point was just a gratuitous dig at someone you obviously don't like. It has no place in this discussion.

Jack - thanks for chiming in on @macentyre's post. I couldn't agree more. I appreciate the tone of the debate overall (until that dig), and would like to see a healthy debate over the mayor's race results and IRV continue. If you have personal digs to make or offer that take away from the discussion, take 'em offline, please.

I wish there had been this lively a discussion on this and other local blogs on the substantive issues facing Burlington. Perhaps, going forward?

Under the current system, a candidate needs at least 50% of the vote, a MAJORITY, to win. Under the old system, a 40% plurality was needed. Kurt had just over 32% in the first round with everyone in, so under the old system, WE WOULD NEED TO HAVE A RUNOFF ELECTION ANYWAY. Doing it instantly is preferable.

For the record, I support IRV, and think a recount is fine!
I don't know why it's so hard for people to understand IRV, but if a recount helps explain things, then why not?

"I think it is crucial that ballots are tabulated according to class: That is, how many were Smith/Montroll/Kiss, how many were Montroll/Smith/Wright, etc."

You can figure some of this out yourself with a little math:

"Andy Montroll's backers by a large margin preferred Bob Kiss to him." Now, that is how the Free Press reported it, but that is not correct."

+1332 votes were reallocated to Bob Kiss in round 3 from Montroll first-place voters, while Kurt picked up +767. Seems like a large margin to me.

"I'm particularly curious about the 566 votes not included in the final tally. Were these "exhausted" because of bullet voting? or ranking of only two or three candidates not including Kiss and Wright?"

In a word, Yes.

"The voters who filled out these ballots missed an opportunity to influence the final outcome, possibly because they didn't understand how IRV works."

No, they chose their favorite candidates for mayor, and did not vote for those who they did not want to be mayor. Nice of you to be concerned about those of us who voted for only one or two people, but rest assured, we know how to vote. Anyone who claims that voters were confused by the ballot or their end of the process is just flat wrong.

Looks like only one mayoral ballot was an undervote -- e.g.,. no first choice. Only four had an overvote, and those four were where someone voted for a candidate and ticked off the write-in box too. That is four invalid ballots out of about 9,000 ballots is __amazingly_ low for any election. it means that more than 99.95% of ballots were valid, as compared to less than 99.0% of ballots in American presidential races.

See data here:

"Why wouldn't this be done in two rounds, with the guy who came in last being eliminated in the first round, the guy who came in second to last eliminated in the second round, and so forth?"

Candidates were defeated in the first round when it becomes mathematically impossible for them to win, in this case write-ins, Simpson, all could not win, so there is no reason to drag it out I guess.. could be fun for drama, though. lol

It is interesting to watch everyone try to "game" the system like it's a primary or a simple plurality vote. IRV actually reduces the game-playing, as well as negative campaigning, in addition to the oft-mentioned savings in cost, time, campaign expenditures and avoiding having fewer voters in non-instant runoffs.

Maybe it's the "instant" part that is the problem? lol

This discussion is so much more interesting and civil than the comments on many media sites monopolized by anonymous writers who spend most of their time attacking each other. Many of the questions about IRV have been answered. I agree with Dell that similar lively discussion on other issues would be welcome going forward. Ten story buildings? Earmarks - and Vermont's favored position?

Thanks for chiming in, Nancy.

I think someone needs to print t-shirts that say "People who IRV is unfair are bad at math."

Just a thought.

heh, and people who leave snarky comments are bad a grammar. oy.

The t-shirts really should say:

"People who think IRV is unfair are bad at math."

That would be funnier and make more sense.

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