New method up for vote

by Charley Bruce

Minneapolis voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to use a new voting method in city elections: ranking candidates first to worst, rather than just their top choice.

The City Council voted 12-1 Aug. 4 to bring the instant runoff voting system to a citywide vote.

If the method passes, voters would rank their candidates in order of preference, said Kelly O’Brien, a member of the Minneapolis Better Ballot Campaign.

For example, with three candidates the voter would rank their favorite as No. 1 and least favorite as No. 3, she said.

“IRV is a method that leads to better democracy,” O’Brien said, with a majority of voters electing a candidate.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office with 42 percent of the vote in 2002. To O’Brien, that means 58 percent of votes were against him, she said. The method would not apply to state offices.

She also said the system would eliminate the need for a primary, which traditionally has low voter turnout.

The voting method necessitates that voters learn about all the candidates, but, she said, voters haven’t been given due credit for their educational efforts.

The proposed system would also save the city $200,000, O’Brien said, though there would be start-up costs for educating the public about the system and possible machine costs.

Minnesota Student Association President Max Page, who was not speaking on behalf of MSA, was the first MSA president to be elected by an instant runoff voting system.

“Personally, I think it is a good system,” he said.

The IRV system gives the voter more flexibility because candidates outside the two-party system with new ideas have a better chance of winning, Page said.

“Confusing for voters”
Barbara Johnson, City Council president and 4th Ward council member, was the lone dissenter and said the voting system will be “extremely confusing for voters.”

“I have great concerns about changing the method of voting we’ve had in our state for so many years,” Johnson said.

The research a voter has to do is much easier after a primary because there are fewer candidates to understand, Johnson said.

She also said the Elections Office might have to buy new equipment, which could cost millions of dollars.

The money likely would have to come out of the capital program used by the city to fix roads, build bridges or fire stations, Johnson said.

She also said she was concerned because most loyal primary voters are senior citizens and this might take away some of that voting bloc’s power, she said.

People older than 65, the most consistent primary voters, are going to be the most confused by this because they have been voting the same way since they began voting, Johnson said.

“Is that fair?” she said.

Jim Bernstein, chairman of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, said, “We rejected it twice.”

The charter commission deals with the Minneapolis charter, which is like a constitution for the city, but the City Council supersedes its recommendations, he said. The charter includes how voting processes work.

The amendment to change Minneapolis’ current voting system to an instant runoff system came before the charter commission twice, in June and August, and was rejected both times, he said.

Despite the objection, the city is letting residents vote on the new system, Bernstein said.

The voting system in place today has been in place since the city was founded, he said, and voters deserve to have more information before voting.

“The voters have the right to know what IRV is, rather than just a slogan, and how it will work,” Bernstein said.

The current system is the most common voting method used across the nation and in Minnesota, Bernstein said.

All other elections would use the traditional method and Bernstein said it doesn’t make sense to use different electoral systems.

“Are you going to have separate voting machines just to do IRV in Minneapolis?” Bernstein said. “The only thing that IRV will be used for is mayor, City Council, Library Board and Park Board.”

Another issue brought up during commission discussion was a lack of a strong winner in an election with multiple positions available.

In elections where there is more than one person running for a position, like Park Board or Library Board, the elected official doesn’t get a 51 percent share of the vote because he or she needs only one-third or one-sixth, depending on how many members are elected to the board, he said.

“This is a false majority,” Bernstein said, “because a person’s fifth choice does not equate to someone else’s first choice.”