An excess of candidates

Rank-choice voting may exacerbate the chaotic Minneapolis mayoral race.

Ronald Dixon

The sheer number of candidates in the Minneapolis Mayoral race is “a blessing of democracy but also a curse of democracy,”  University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs told the Star Tribune last week.

Ideally, in Minneapolis, candidates are narrowed down by an endorsement process, leaving just a few to vote for during the
general election.

The Minneapolis mayoral race was not an exception to this general rule. In June, we had a city convention for the DFL to endorse a candidate for the November general election. There were six contenders at the convention, many of which were qualified candidates with deep ties to the city.

Due to the fact that one candidate was unable to muster the 60 percent required support to obtain the endorsement, the convention concluded without
an endorsement.

Because the DFL failed to endorse a candidate, a flood of contenders, ranging across the political spectrum, decided to join the race. In fact, there are now 35 hopefuls vying
for the seat.

Why are there so many candidates? We can attribute a portion of the cause to popular incumbent Mayor R.T. Rybak, who decided not to run for re-election and left a wide-open seat.

Rank-choice voting allows constituents to vote for multiple candidates in a ranked order. When a candidate loses, then his or her votes are dispersed to the second preferences, and so on. RCV makes a one-party-dominated city like Minneapolis more
competitive as well.

In a way, Jacobs is correct when he declares that dozens of candidates serves as a “blessing of democracy.” In theory, a democracy involves influence from more people within
the constituency.

At the same time, it places a “curse” on democracy by creating an incredible burden for voters to research dozens of candidates, and for these candidates to distinguish themselves in a competitive race.

Even if a Minneapolis voter has a passion for local politics, would they find themselves motivated to research every candidate, and to rank them based upon total, overall preference? Probably not.

Even if one wanted to learn about every candidate, much of the reporting out there doesn’t do justice to the views of all of the candidates. This is especially troubling for college students, who often lack the time to learn about a few candidates, let alone 35.

Moreover, each candidate, apart from well-known front-runners Betsy Hodges and Mark Andrew, is having a difficult time trying to promulgate his or her messages through earned media attention. Although forums have been established for candidates to participate in public debates, some bar certain candidates, like the DFL-only debate in March.

I wish not to disincentivize University students from voting, or to tarnish the potential benefits of rank-choice voting. By identifying problems with our political process, we can develop a higher quality
local government.