Bart Bouricius' 2003 Testimony to the Connecticut House of Representatives

Bart Bouricius' Testimony on Connecticut Instant Runoff Voting Bill to the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Election.  Testimony on Connecticut House Bill 6622 on March 21, 2003.

Good Afternoon. My name is Bart Bouricius and I am representing the Center for Voting and Democracy on behalf of Terry Bouricius, one of the Center’s senior analysts. The Center is a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization that studies the American electoral process. The Center is supported by individuals and foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and the Open Society Institute. Former Congressman John B. Anderson is its president.

House bill 6622 is an important precaution to protect any investment in new voting equipment from early obsolescence. While there may be no immediate plans to use rank-order voting or cumulative voting in Connecticut right now, interest in these fair election voting systems is mushrooming across the country.

First, let me give a thumbnail sketch of what these voting systems are about, because there isn’t time to explain them in any detail. Rank-order voting, also called preferential voting, choice voting or instant runoff voting, is recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order as superior to the commonly used plurality voting. Rank-order voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice, rather than select just one. It eliminates the “spoiler” problem in races with multiple candidates and can assure majority rule and full representation. Rank-order ballots have been used in over 20 U.S. cities, with San Francisco being the most recent city to adopt it. In San Francisco it will save the city millions of dollars by eliminating the need for separate runoff elections. Louisiana uses rank-order voting for their overseas absentee ballots. Legislation to adopt rank-order voting is pending in over a dozen states.

Cumulative voting is a system of voting used in numerous municipal elections in the U.S. It gives voters’ the freedom to concentrate or spread their votes in multi-seat districts. It accomplishes the same goal as Connecticut’s law assuring minority party inclusion in municipal government, without the limitations on voter choice imposed by the Connecticut law. Most states have laws that provide for cumulative voting in corporate board of directors elections, as a way of protecting the rights of investors.

In Illinois, cumulative voting was used to elect the House of Representatives from three-seat districts for over a century - until 1980. There is currently a move to reinstate cumulative voting for the Illinois House. Many jurisdictions have also adopted cumulative voting as part of a settlement of voting rights law suits, because it provides for a more representative city council or school board by allowing racial minorities to elect a share of seats roughly proportionate to voter population, without creating racially defined single-seat districts.

House Bill 6622 takes a reasonable approach to protect the state’s investment in new voting equipment. The vendor should not be allowed to demand additional time and money to modify software or hardware.

Most new voting equipment is, or can be, compatible with ranked ballot elections and cumulative voting at little or no additional cost, but only if specified in the RFP at the time of purchase. If a jurisdiction is paying large sums of money to buy new voting equipment, that equipment should accommodate any ballot type that the jurisdiction might adopt in the future. While the actual cost of providing this flexibility in the software when originally purchased is either zero or minimal, depending on how competitive the bidding happens to be -- after-the-fact requests for necessary software upgrades can cost millions of dollars. The reason for this is simple. If a state or jurisdiction has already invested heavily in new hardware, they become captive customers, totally dependent on that vendor for any upgrades of software. Requiring such flexibility from the get-go is a classic case of a stitch in time saves nine.

We would strongly suggest one small but critical amendment to the language in the bill to anticipate exactly this concern. Section 9-242 subsection (b) of the bill as introduced would add the following language:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, the machine shall also be so constructed as to provide for ranked order voting and cumulative voting.”

This language t may inadvertently exclude the critically important software provided at the time of sale. For the bill to accomplish its purpose, it is crucial that the bill have the words “and included software” inserted following the word “machine” in that sentence.