Ranked-choice voting (RCV) was amended into the Minneapolis city charter in 2006, and it was first used in the 2009 municipal election. This voting system was on full display during the 2017 municipal election this past week, as Minneapolis saw the highest voter turnout in over 20 years. Despite the high turnout, RCV seems to be a very confusing process for many voters, which may deter potential voters from turning out in elections where this voting system is utilized. Municipal election turnout, in particular, is one of the lowest rates throughout the country, and steps need to be taken to combat this.
The main purpose of using ranked-choice voting is clear: to elect the candidate with the most overall support. This voting system is utilized in elections where there are often multiple serious candidates and if straight voting were to be used, a candidate with less than 50 percent of the total vote could, and often does, win. However, the system is not as simple as it seems to be. RCV is not a points system where first-choice votes would receive three points, second-choice would receive two points, etc. RCV aims to elect the candidate who receives over 50 percent of the votes. If no candidate receives over 50 percent voting on the first round, the bottom candidates are removed, with the ballots vote moving to the second-choice candidate and so on until two candidates stand. Ranking another candidate for second and third choice is not detrimental to a voter’s first choice, which is a common misconception of the system.
Simply put, ranked-choice voting is complicated, even to voters who turnout in the election. However, do the concerns with the system fall on the system or the people? At the end of the day, just as it is up to the voter to know the candidates and then vote, it should be up to the voters to know the system. There are ways to help people understand the system better. Advertising websites with easy to understand information about RCV, as well as encouraging others to vote and research can help combat this. It is clear that RCV accomplishes many things that a binary voting system would not, allowing for a consensus candidate to be elected, campaigns to be more civil and creating a greater swath of candidates for voters to choose from.
Municipal elections, though small, are extremely important. City council representatives, mayors and other candidates often have a profound effect on policy that is the closest to their constituents. Many citizens may underestimate this impact, and creating a knowledgeable and passionate voter base will lead to a more diverse and better country. The qualms about RCV should be met with a call for voters to become more knowledgeable. Voters who understand the election process and the candidates should spend their time engaging with people who do not. Holding other voters accountable is how we create a better country and a better Minneapolis.