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Letter to the Editor: Let’s fix our broken voting system

With ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates in their order of preference.
Image by Morgan La Casse

I’m proud to live in a state with one of the most successful ranked-choice voting (RCV) movements in the country. In addition to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which have been using RCV for some time, Saint Louis Park voters will be ranking their ballots for the first time this November. Bloomington, Rochester, Red Wing and Minnetonka all are considering adopting RCV too. That’s great, and I hope that soon we’ll be able to use this much more representative voting system statewide.

We are conditioned to believe in our “first past the post” plurality voting system, which is a fancy way of saying “whoever gets the most votes wins” – even if those votes fall far short of a majority. Plurality voting is an affront to democracy. 

Imagine a scenario in which three strong candidates run and split the vote, resulting in the winner receiving just 40% of the vote. This is commonplace at all levels of elections, including our current president who didn’t receive a majority of the early primary votes that led to his nomination or a majority of the popular vote in the 2016 general election. The current Democratic presidential primary includes 20-plus candidates, with the nominee likely to win without a majority of support. How democratic is a system in which most voters actually voted for someone other than the winning candidate? 

This type of vote splitting is a recipe for bitterness, disenfranchisement and polarization. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

With RCV, voters rank candidates in their order of preference. It works like a runoff, but in a single election. After all of the first place votes are tallied, a winner is only declared if those first place votes reflect 50%, plus one. If not, the candidate with the least first place votes is eliminated and those voters’ second choices are now counted. This process continues until one candidate reaches the winning threshold. RCV eliminates the dreaded spoiler problem and lets voters vote for the candidate they like best. 

Ranked choice voting does not benefit any political party or ideology. It does require candidates to reach out beyond their base and earn a majority of voter support. It also removes incentives for hateful advertisements that exacerbate partisanship and sow division. These ads work because they exploit the faults in the current voting system by pitting voters against each other. But, in the end, we all lose when voters become disenfranchised. 

If you want Minnesota to be a forerunner and become the second state – Maine was the first – to give all its voters a healthier and more powerful democracy, then it’s up to you to get active. Call the governor’s office, call your state representatives, talk to your friends and volunteer. Tell them about ranked choice voting: how it works and why it’s better.

Yes, our voting system is broken, but together we can fix it. The future of our democracy depends on it.

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Kevin Monagan is a senior at the University of Minnesota pursing a Bachelor of Individualized Studies degree in English, political science and psychology and an intern with FairVote Minnesota.

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