Open letter from Marilyn Marks to fairVote head Rob Richie re Aspen CO 2009 IRV mayoral election

Marilyn R. Marks was a 2009 candidate for the Mayor of Aspen. She lost to Mick Ireland in the election conducted with IRV on the 5th of May. Here are her thoughts as expressed in an open letter to Rob Richie, CEO of FairVote. She's given us permission to post this.

This Marks letter confirms a lot of our worst suspicions about IRV in the real world, as seen by a candidate in the race. It is very rare a candidate in a race is willing to speak about this stuff, so this is valuable.

Mr. Richie,

I am the candidate who lost the mayoral election to Mick Ireland in Aspen on the 5th.

I found your analysis surprising and certainly lacking in objectivity, as indicated by the title. See my comments in red font on the attached copy of your article.

First let me say that I am not contesting the election or feel any sense of "sour grapes." I did far better in the election than most people had predicted. I loved my experience in running for office, particularly with a sudden, last minute decision to run. The issues with the IRV are not nearly as severe in the mayor's race as in the Council race. I understand that numerous citizens plan to ask that Council review IRV and take the IRV method back to a vote of the people. Once you study the statistics, I think that you will have to agree that IRV did not do many "good things" for Aspen in the election. The Aspen Times (very small) poll showed that 52% want to discontinue irv, and 40% want to continue it.

See the poll I am conducting. See and the results and comments posted there. (Of course, neither is scientific.)

There were numerous deficiencies in the election, some IRV-related, some not, which cast a cloud over the election which you have not covered.

There are numerous spoiled ballots (43) and many not counted at all (23) , although intent could have been determined if time were put into it.

4% of the mail-in ballots were spoiled, likely due to complexity. These are far higher than traditional numbers.

Different polling places were getting differing levels of "input" at the voting booth about how fully to rank.

Over 51% failed to rank 5 or more candidates, meaning that they took a big risk of not participating in the run-off.

Ireland did not encourage ranking, and 30% of his voters "bullet voted" for only him. This was twice as high as the "bullet voting" for his competitors.

4.6% of the people did not participate in the mayor's run-off (voting for only the two candidates who dropped out), while in the traditional run-off in 2007, the drop-off rate was only 2.8%.

The numbers are far higher in the council race for voter drop-off in run-off participation.

When voters are encouraged to "bullet vote" and they drop out of the ranking process, it defeats the purpose of IRV, obviously. Note the data in the Election results document.

But most troublesome was the amount of voter confusion. And no wonder. See my nephew's analysis in the attached pdf file. (His contact information is Douglas Marks ddmarks AT

The final tabulation method was chosen out of frustration and a deadline, with little consensus or understanding of the public, or Council or the IRV task force as to the comparisons the pros and cons of each method. When one sees the result, it is clear that the voters will never understand why the selected method elected a particular candidate. All one has to do is to do is look at the strings of voter data, and you can see the confusion in the voter markings.

Also, this election was more costly than two traditional elections. Since we will not insource the running of the elections I can't imagine that it will get cheaper.

Your conclusions about campaign spending are very interesting. Where did you get your data that suggests that I outspent Ireland? I have not turned in any reports to that effect. I was blessed with generous contributions, and he was outspending me until the very end. I still have contributions remaining unspent. The last reports showed him outspending me, I feel sure.

Your conclusions about negative campaigning are also off base. Ireland had a group of people writing horrendous things about me, and making up terrible, fabricated negative things. He made completely false statements about me, and his campaign threatened business owners who opened their doors for my campaign events. It is wishful thinking to suggest that IRV lead to any less negative campaigning in the mayor's race. In fact, it was more negative than in times past.

Candidates told me that they suggested bullet voting as they were fearful of confusing their voters and uncertain of the math anomalies, so the purpose of ranking was defeated in many cases.

The Diebold machine counts have not been reconciled to the IRV TrueBallot counts. There appear to be dropped Diebold ballots, and conversely, may have duplicated TrueBallot ballots which were counted. This does not give voters confidence in a new voting method. (Later note: The City Attorney's office reports this morning that they have been recently able to reconcile the Diebold and TrueBallot counts and believe that there was a problem with the Diebold machines. They believe that the TrueBallot counts are correct. )

The logic and accuracy procedures as required by state law were not performed on the IRV software to the standard norms. Virtually no independent testing was done of the software. The "audit" performed after the election was merely to test the accuracy of the scanner in recording the ballots. No tests of tabulation methodology or software were done.

In fact, the night before the election, the "test" was made and the candidate with the LEAST votes declared the winner. One of the members of the Election Commission questioned this and the software was tinkered with and a new computation created. Tabulation software should not be changing 15 hours before the polls open. [Editor's note: holy cow!]

City Council had assured us that hand-counts and audits would be performed post election to give voters more confidence. But they declined to conduct them.

The TrueBallot software was billed as "open source" software, which was to be supplied to the public before the election. Numerous requests of the City and TrueBallot to make the code available go without response. (Later note: It has been supplied this morning, so this comment should now be deleted.)

The voter confidence is not high in the IRV process for these and other reasons.

Given all of these things, I am interested as to why you so prematurely declare this a "successful" IRV election.

I hope that you will take a closer look at the details.

Thank you for your time. Marilyn Marks

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