There is a weekly news quiz on the radio called Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! Sometimes the hosts and comedians on the show make fun of the news. All good, until… the show decided to jump aboard the laugh-at-instant-runoff-voting train while New York City waited for its instant runoff voting (IRV) mayoral primary results. I can usually take a joke, but because I care about instant runoff voting, I was inspired to write this post.
Because the Democratic mayoral primary was close enough for ranking to be important, that party’s results could not be officially certified, or even called by news agencies, until weeks after the June 22 primary election. This is because complete election results are needed to determine an IRV winner in a close election. NYC taking a while to complete its primary wasn’t a bad thing, since IRV acts as a set of sequential runoff elections and therefore may result in an elected official having more voter support than a plurality election would provide. (In a plurality election, whoever gets the most votes wins, even if that person gets far less than a majority.) Even still, modern voters expect fast results.
This is when it helps to remember that Oklahoma is not New York City. (Hold that “duh.”) In Oklahoma, all ballots are due on election day (email from Misha Mohr, July 6 2021, replying to Oklahoma Elections Board Inquiry). The ballots must be received by then, not merely postmarked, and even military/overseas ballots must be returned by that date, with fax being acceptable for those in the military/overseas category. In the absence of “contest or petition for recount,” this allows the election to typically be certified within a week (email from Misha Mohr, August 9 2021). (An organization in Minnesota has a summary of Oklahoma recount rules, updated February 21, 2020, with sources.) This contrasts with NYC’s June 2021 primary election which allowed ballots postmarked on election day to be counted if they were received no more than a week after the election. NYC also allowed 10 additional days for voters to “cure” or correct certain types of errors on their absentee ballots, such as an envelope having a missing signature. The NYC Democratic primary election was called by the Associated Press shortly before the curing period ended.
What does Oklahoma give up by not letting ballots come in later? Turns out, not much. Ballots can be sent out early enough to allow time to mail them in, and as noted, military and overseas Oklahoma voters can fax in their absentee ballots. There is one serious issue with Oklahoma’s faster approach: by not allowing cures, some mistakes in voter handling of the Oklahoma absentee ballot kit will result in uncounted votes. In the event this is changed, close-race IRV election results would take longer to be available.
Absentee ballots have to be processed after receipt, so even in Oklahoma it is unlikely a close IRV race (or any close race) will be called on election day. Even if getting IRV election results takes a bit longer, it’s worth the wait to have someone elected who better represents the voters.
Slow is worth it to get a better outcome, but Oklahoma’s IRV doesn’t have to be “New York City slow.”
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