Not-so-instant runoff voting

Results of the first IRV city election may not be in for weeks.

On Nov. 3, Minneapolis residents going to the polls will face a new voting system that lets voters rank their top three choices for each municipal office. In ranked choice voting âÄî also known as instant runoff voting or IRV âÄî candidates are initially arranged based on votersâÄô first choices; the one with the least votes is eliminated, and those votersâÄô second choices are added to the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until one candidate has over 50 percent of the vote. An IRV system eliminates low-turnout primary elections, reducing costs and increasing participation, and better reflects votersâÄô true preference, since third parties will no longer be able to âÄúspoilâÄù elections. Importantly, it is a proven system, already used in Australia and Ireland and in several cities across America. Unlike these, however, Minneapolis wonâÄôt have the assistance of scanning machines to tabulate votes if no candidate receives over half of the first choices, delaying results for up to eight weeks. Since Minnesota does not certify machines that can count ranked choice ballots, and because cities are prohibited from using non-certified machines, city elections workers must hand-count each ballot. Fortunately, the city attorney has assured elections officials that they can use Microsoft Excel to help tally. Otherwise, votes would still be being sorted well into 2010. The Minnesota LegislatureâÄôs refusal to heed the cityâÄôs 2004 request for IRV certification will certainly cost city taxpayers, but it may also malign the whole system as uncertainty over winners and counting procedures linger for weeks. The Legislature must move to correct its voting machine standards before the next municipal vote.