Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Don Samuels Versus Four Angry Political Midgets In An IRV World...

Stock Photo By John Hoff

Instant runoff voting throws some new and interesting twists into this November's city council race, and some political commentators seem to think the Fifth Ward City Council race will be impacted. Personally, I see the race as "Don Samuels Versus Four Angry Political Midgets" and I don't think IRV will be a factor. None of the people opposing Don Samuels is particularly impressive, individually or collectively. More on that in a bit.

However, trying to anticipate exactly how IRV will impact the race has been a vague mental exercise. Until today, that is. Hawthorne's Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, is extremely good with arcane numerical crap. This is a guy who calculates the exact percentage he saved on his grocery store purchases by using coupons. So Jeff came up with some specific scenarios of how IRV might impact the Fifth Ward Race, as follows...

(These words are from Jeff Skrenes, verbatim)

Here's my understanding of how IRV would work.

Let's say that nobody gets 50% plus one (and that's one vote, not one percent) on the first ballot. In this hypothetical situation, the votes break down this way:

Don Samuels 40%
Kenya McKnight 20%
Natalie Johnson Lee 15%
Lennie Chism 14%
Roger Smithrud 11%

I realize this may be generous to one or more of the challengers here (or some may think I'm being generous to Samuels) but I'm illustrating a point.

In this case, nobody got 50% + 1, so Smithrud is eliminated. Everybody who voted for him as their first choice now has their ballots re-examined. If they voted for a second candidate, then their second choice gets the votes when the ballots are counted again. And everybody's first choice besides the eliminated candidate remains the same.

So if every single Smithrud supporter voted for Samuels as their second choice, then the tally on the second round would look like this:

Samuels 51%
McKnight 20%
Johnson Lee 15%
Chism 14%

And Samuels would be declared the winner.

But let's assume that Smithrud's votes are evenly distributed among all candidates. It would then look roughly like this:

Samuels 43%
McKnight 23%
Johnson Lee 18%
Chism 17%

Then Chism would be eliminated, and all of the voters who voted for him would have their second choice counted in the third round. Likewise, anyone who voted for Smithrud as their first choice and Chism as their second choice would have their third choice counted. This process would repeat itself until someone received 50% + 1 votes.

From a political calculus standpoint, the DFL-endorsed incumbent in a DFL-leaning city and district has a head start in terms of votes. But regardless, the system still favors whoever starts out with the most votes.

IRV could help a challenger to Samuels if there are two candidates who finish very strong and everyone else is far behind. Then it doesn't take too many votes to put the second-place finisher over the top.

In an election with more than two candidates, IRV could help third (and fourth) (and fifth) candidates garner more votes. Someone could say, "I don't support Samuels, and I really want Lennie Chism to win, but I think Kenya McKnight is the more viable contender." So they would vote for Lennie as their first choice, and Kenya as the second choice, knowing that if/when Lennie is eliminated, they didn't "waste" a vote by voting for their favorite candidate. What seems more likely, however, is that the candidate with the most votes after the first round will get enough of the second and third choice votes as other candidates are eliminated.

Here's another fun possibility: since there are five candidates, it is at least remotely possible that the bottom three vote-getters will split enough amongst themselves that the top two candidates still do not have a simple majority. So let's say that every single Johnson, Chism, and Smithrud supporter voted ONLY for Johnson, Chism, or Smithrud as their top choices, and neither Samuels nor McKnight won a 50% + 1 tally. I THINK at that point, the person with the most total votes would win, but I'd have to check for sure.

Well, this wasn't as fun as, say, explaining the intricacies of how to calculate a prepayment penalty on an ARM loan indexed to the LIBOR rate, but it did get pretty geeky.

(End of explanation by Jeff Skrenes)

Thanks Jeff. Intricacies of IRV aside, there are only two choices in this race: Don Samuels or the angry wannabes, what I call the "four political midgets." (Jeff is not responsible for the following analysis)

ANGRY MIDGET NUMBER ONE: Natalie Johnson-Lee was involved in one of the nastiest, dirtiest campaigns in the history of the City of Minneapolis and yet still couldn't beat Don Samuels in what used to be her own ward before redistricting. She jumped in at the last minute and--to make matters more confusing--her old campaign manager, Jerry Moore, now appears to be associated with Kenya McKnight. (Click here for some documentation of that)

I'm told on good authority that Johnson-Lee used to have Mary Kay and Tupperware parties in her council office and would sit and pay her bills while on the city council dais. Well, one can't fault the last part too much. Certain members of the Jordan Area Community Council "Old Majority" would certainly benefit from the bill-paying example.

ANGRY MIDGET NUMBER TWO: Kenya McKnight. A couple weeks ago, I was at Farview Park and I saw Kenya McKnight keeping company with perennial also-ran James Everett. When I pointed my camera in her direction to get a stock photo, McKnight actually stepped behind some people to avoid my camera.

It wasn't the first time I've seen her do this, she did the same thing during the Broadway Art FLOW. (And she was hanging around with perpetual loser James Everett then, too)

What kind of political candidate doesn't want her PICTURE taken? Is she afraid the camera will steal her soul? (Editorial remark by Chipper The Entrepreneurial Squirrel: Maybe she's afraid somebody will steal her nuts, but Kenya's nuts aren't the kind you can steal)

ANGRY MIDGET NUMBER THREE: Lennie "The Heckler" Chism, also known as "Uncle Lennie" since his bargain basement purchase of the old Uncle Bill's store. Lennie is the kind of guy who buys a vacant building scheduled for demolition and then tries to make it seem like political oppression when the city wants to move forward with tearing down the building. In this way, Lennie's kind of like Mayoral Candidate Al "I Am The Community" Flowers pissing and moaning about having to pay his utility bill like everybody else.

Like, oh, look at me! I'm oppressed, I have to PAY MY WATER BILL!

ANGRY MIDGET NUMBER FOUR: Roger Smithrud is the midget of the midgets. He even physically resembles a garden gnome. But at least Smithrud will stand still to have his picture taken instead of acting like a movie star being chased by paparazzi, like, oh, it's so invasive HAVING MY PICTURE TAKEN when I'm RUNNING FOR POLITICAL OFFICE.

Smithrud claims he once supported Don Samuels. Well, something seems to have changed after Samuels was in favor of tearing down a crappy apartment building owned by Smithrud's brother. So Smithrud is an angry midget, but his anger appears to stem from a different source than the other three anti-Samuels candidates, something more right wing and rooted in property rights fanaticism.

Jeff Skrenes is much better at political predictions than I am--at least to the tune of $2 in wagers--but I have a wager going with Don Allen for a dinner at the Monte Carlo that Don Samuels will win the race. Personally, I think Samuels will win by racking up more than 50 percent of the vote on the first round. Each of the "political midgets" is a small, tragic character and each of them makes Samuels appear an even better choice. (And he's already a great councilman or, as Kenya McKnight would put it, a very very very good councilman)

So that's my call. Samuels by more than 50 percent on the first round, and who gives a rip about IRV?


Margaret said...

Thanks for taking us through that. I am a little more concerned than you are that there will be a Samuels vote and an "anybody but Samuels" vote. The guy has fans, the guy has enemies. That could concievably make him the last choice of people voting for all the other candidates. He really needs to get his fans to the polls to vote him #1 by a significant margin.

The other thing I am not clear on is whether this IRV system penalizes candidates whose supporters vote only once for their preferred candidate or whether marking only one vote for your preferred candidate will benefit them. A large fraction of people will do that this time because (a) they don't understand IRV or (b) they are annoyed with having to make more than one choice among candidates they know little about. In general, IRV promotes study of all the candidates but it will take time before people's behavior changes.

MeganG. said...

Margaret, from what I understand, IRV does not penalize for voting for only one candidate.

So what I will be doing is voting for Samuels and only Samuels. I won't be ranking any other votes. Just Samuels. Then no one will get any of my points except Samuels.

I think this should be spread wide and far to help people understand that the challengers, especially the 3 challengers who seem to come from the same base of voters, are trying to game the new system by splitting as many votes as they can.

Lawsuit. Lawsuit. Lawsuit.

I'll give you 3 guesses as to who the attorney filing a lawsuit will *probably* be.

Don Allen said...

Based on the information I have on the upcoming "home stretch" the numbers will look like this.

Chism 45%
Samuels 22%
McKnight 15%
Johnson-Lee 18%
Smithrud - no factor


The Mortgage Geek said...

John, want to bet another dollar? I bet you a dollar that it will take at least one additional round to get Don to 50% + 1. My gut says history will repeat itself, and just like the DFL endorsement, Don will win in the third round.

MeganG. said...

Don, Not sure if your "walking sheets" show this or not, but most of the votes in the 5th ward come from Precinct 1 and 4 - Willard-Hay and Homewood.

Uncle Lennie's is right in the middle.

Lennie isn't going to win either of those precincts.

I'll bet you a dollar he doesn't even get 10% of all votes turned out in ward.

Margaret said...

I was speaking more of a mathematical penalty than an actual one, Megan. Suppose you want Samuels to win and never, not not ever X to win. Your best bet would be to vote Samuels AND at least one or two candidates that you are pretty darn certain will not garner a competitive share of the votes. This would deny X additional votes and give the votes to their competitors. I haven't studied Minneapolis' new IRV system to know whether this operates but in some cases, it's an openly promoted proposition meant to discourage people from just throwing away their other opportunities to rank order their preferences. That's a problem when you are transitioning from a single vote-ballot system to a rank order ballot.

MeganG. said...

Ooohh, I see what you meant now. I hadn't thought of that strategy.

It's sort of mindboggling when you think of all the different scenarios and possibilities and "what ifs".

It's going to be interesting to see what happens in November. Keep the hypotheticals coming.

The Mortgage Geek said...

If you vote for only one candidate, your vote stays with that candidate until he or she is eliminated. Then your vote does not count towards anyone.

So if someone votes for Chism and no one else, and Lennie is eliminated, their vote gets discarded. If someone votes for Samuels and no one else, their vote stays with Samuels until he is declared the winner.

This is actually the basis for why some people claim IRV is unconstitutional. The person who votes for two or three candidates may be likely to have their vote "counted" more than the person who votes for only one.

@ Don Allen: Frankly, those numbers are pure fantasy. If anyone has a shot at unseating Samuels, it's Kenya McKnight. At least she's been in it since before the precinct caucuses and she's been laying the groundwork of a campaign.

I do agree that Smithrud is going to be a non-factor, and my numbers in the post were purely for the sake of easy math. But in an off-year, I don't see late-comers like Chism and Johnson Lee as having done enough of the upfront hard work that MOST successful campaigns need.

MeganG. said...

Mortgage Geek, I think you are giving McKnight too much and not giving Johnson-Lee enough.

I see what you mean about starting early, but NJL already has name recognition - however some would argue that her name recognition is a disadvantage and not an advantage.

However, I still see NJL and KM as pulling from the same base, and Lennie pulling a few votes from that same base and a few votes from the... the....the entrepreneurial base (????)

veg*nation said...

i don't suppose you're allowed to choose Samuels for both your first and second choice (which would be the TRUTH).

Johnny Northside said...

No, as far as I know, the optimum way would be to vote for your candidate and ONLY your candidate if that's how you feel.

As for where Lennie pulls his votes from...hmmmm....

Don, here's my numbers:

Samuels: 65 percent
Johnson Lee: 30 percent
All Others: 5 percent, with Chipper The Entrepreneurial Squirrel getting more than Lennie Chism.

Johnny Northside said...

And more than Lennie Chism and Roger Smithrud COMBINED.

MeganG. said...

@ Veg-nation - I suppose we could always vote for DON Samuels first choice - then write in SONDRA Samuels second choice - THEN we could write in Chipper the Entrepreneurial Squirrel as THIRD choice!!!!

Yeah! That's how I'm voting!!!!

The Mortgage Geek said...

I also need to clear up one major factual error in here that John put down. I do NOT calculate how much money I save on coupons at the grocery store.

Cub foods does that FOR me on their receipts. I merely keep track of that number and have a goal I strive for.

Johnny Northside said...

I SAW YOU calculate prior to checking out, Jeff. Remember that time I gave you the energy saver lightbulb for free and I said, hey, since you didn't buy that item you should be able to count that toward your savings? And you wouldn't do that? Remember the time you preferred to go shopping before your coupons ran out rather than--at that very moment--drink and socialize with HOT WOMEN?

I stand by the post as written and I'm glad for the opportunity to elaboroate.

The Mortgage Geek said...

Geez, the ONE TIME I crunched numbers in my head, it HAD to be with you around. You better watch out, John. If your blog makes it harder for me to get a date with a hot woman, I just might sue.

veg*nation said...

YES! we should definitely start a campaign to write in Sondra as the second choice write-in candidate! YES! can we start an fb group for that? :)

Margaret said...

Yeah, I'd agree with Megan to say Natalie has more of an opportunity to have an upset. She did represent the ward and some of my neighbors still have her signs from last time around. Most of the Kenya Knight endorsement battle is inside baseball to the regular voter who doesn't read this blog and wasn't there.

Margaret said...

The idea behind IRV is that people have preferences about all the candidates. That they are informed about all of them. They like A more than B, but they'll live with C. OTOH, They can't stand D. This scenario depends on the fact that all the candidates are minimally qualified, not crazy or gadflies or joke candidates. Single ballot tends to generate one or two strong candidates (and a 2 party structure). IRV tends to generate a field of candidates and multiplicity of parties. But that's over time. I'm not a fan of IRV because it just makes things more complicated for the average voter which is a disincentive to voting and less transparent when people are already complaining about lack of transparency w/voter fraud. You end up depending on computers to do the calculations in a close race. And you thought recounts were bad...

Anonymous said...

Chipper looks like the world's most fmous squirrel from Nat-Geo: