U students consider instant runoff voting

Students committed to changing the way the University chooses its leaders met Monday in Coffman Union to rally support.

Students from the Democracy Package, an affiliate of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, are working to push instant runoff voting – a system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, instead of making one choice.

“It’s a statewide strategy to push instant runoff voting onto campuses,” third-year student and MPIRG member Shaun Laden said.

Organizers behind the instant runoff voting campaign want the University to choose its student representation through instant runoff voting, which Laden said is taking place on eight campuses across the state – part of a national effort to familiarize the country with instant runoff voting.

In an instant runoff election, all first choices are counted and if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the candidate with the smallest number of votes is eliminated. Then the second-choice votes from the ballots with the eliminated candidate placed first are transferred to the remaining candidates.

The process continues until a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes.

“It changes how people feel about an election because you don’t have to compromise who you vote for,” MPIRG program director Jon Hunter said.

Instant runoff voting helps to correct three problems in the current election process, said Tony Solgard, president of Fair Vote Minnesota, a statewide group aimed at changing the voting system.

First, Solgard said, it will clarify that the winner has a mandate to govern because candidates need more than 50 percent of the votes to win.

Solgard said it will also eliminate the “spoiler problem,” which occurs when people do not vote for third-party candidates for fear their vote will be wasted.

Additionally, instant runoff voting will clean up campaigns because candidates will have to appeal to a broader audience to also be a second choice, Solgard said.

Solgard said Ireland and Australia have successfully used instant runoff voting for more than 80 years.

Tim Penny, former Minnesota congressman, Independence Party gubernatorial candidate and senior fellow of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the two major parties would oppose instant runoff voting because they benefit from their preferred status in the current system.

Penny said another disadvantage to instant runoff voting is that it could confuse voters, and there is also a potential problem if voters do not choose a second candidate.

Penny said the new system would be beneficial, but pilot programs are necessary to understand its value.

“(Instant runoff voting) would foster more competition, it would bring more points of view and would find out what voters are wanting to say,” Penny said.

The Minnesota Student Association has not been given a proposal yet, nor have any decisions been made regarding the system, but Laden hopes the University adopts instant runoff voting as its official system next spring.

“I think MSA would be receptive to this,” said Amanda Hutchings, chairwoman of the MSA legislative affairs committee.

However, Hutchings said she would prefer the University keep its current voting system and thinks instant runoff would be difficult and confusing.