Instant Runoff Voting: Who doesn’t want it to happen?

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Last week, we provided a brief overview of the status of instant runoff voting (IRV) in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In both cities, the measure remains in limbo in spite of substantial citizen support. In St. Paul, legal issues have been raised that leave in doubt if and when IRV will be put to voters as a ballot measure. In Minneapolis, where it has already been approved by voters, IRV’s implementation hinges on the outcome of a legal challenge.

The main group in opposition to IRV is an Eden Prairie-based group calling itself the Minnesota Voters Alliance (hereinafter called MVA), whose website describes them as “…a citizen’s group formed in the interest of liberty, transparency in government, and a well-informed [emphasis theirs] electorate.”
Also listed are MVA’s three main goals:

1. Stop the undemocratic and unconstitutional Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) scheme and push to preserve the electoral college!

2. Preserve our right to vote for judges, which is now being threatened.

3. Restore the partisan-basis election format for municipal elections and promote term limits.

MVA also describes itself as “multi-partisan”; main spokesman and Executive Director Andy Cilek explained, “We use that term as opposed to the term ‘nonpartisan’ because we don’t believe anyone is really nonpartisan. The word ‘nonpartisan’ is probably one of the most misused words in the English language… Our current members have widespread political views and party affiliations. We welcome anyone who shares our election views.”

As examples of the “multi-partisan” nature of MVA, Cilek noted that MVA has spoken twice on Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM1280, on Air America radio’s Minnesota Matters, on the Jason Lewis radio program, at the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, at the Minneapolis Business Forum, at a Victory Neighborhood Lutheran Church meeting, at the Edina Kiwanis Club, and at the Civic Caucus in Bloomington, as well as providing testimony at a Minnesota Senate hearing on IRV. They are also scheduled to speak to the Bloomington Rotary Club.

Following are Cilek’s (AC) responses to questions about various statements made by MVA or on its behalf:

MSR: “Please explain your group’s goal to “restore the partisan-basis election format for municipal elections.”

AC: “In 1973, the state legislature required all Cities of the First Class (cities of 100,000 or more) to have partisan ‘basis’ elections for their mayor and city council elections. Since then, Home Rule Charter Cities St. Paul in 1978 and Minneapolis in 1983 adopted nonpartisan elections.

“Nonpartisan elections effectively disenfranchise voters as they restrict choices and fail to guarantee that more than one political party can be represented in the general election. By limiting the general election to just the top two overall vote-getters, nonpartisan elections often end up with two candidates from the same party. Partisan elections ensure that each political party which puts forth a candidate in the primary will be represented in the general election, along with each qualified Independent.”

Cilek also explained that a partisan format “helps guarantee a healthier diversity of viewpoints and stronger, more transparent elections.”

MSR: “[I believe] you said something to the effect that the lawsuit filed in Minneapolis was ‘mischaracterized’ in [the media]. Please explain how.”

AC: “It’s more of a case that it wasn’t really explained at all in the media. We are seeking a declaratory judgment that IRV is unconstitutional. In addition, it appears that Minneapolis cannot go forward with its IRV system without an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, an issue requiring clarification of the courts. We feel strongly that we will get a favorable opinion in September from Hennepin County District Judge George F. McGunnigle.”

MSR: “IRV, according to MVA, ‘easily leads to unreasonably large fields of candidates, making it nearly impossible for voters to identify them.’ Please explain.”

AC: “In Minneapolis, mayoral races typically see anywhere from 20 to 25 candidates in the primary election. If this were IRV, with no primary, this would be unpractical [sic]. How could you have effective debate with this many candidates? You can’t; it’s not realistic.

“The purpose of primaries is not merely to find someone who can win, but to allow voters to nominate candidates who will represent their views in the general election, to make candidates prove they are worthy to serve, and to reduce the field of candidates to a more practical number.

“Primaries are where key issues are identified and examined. They provide an organized environment for debate and have proven to be essential to democracy. Eliminating them will further weaken the electoral process.”

MSR: “Please explain your group’s position that IRV hurts minorities/people of color.”

AC: “When we say it hurts minorities, we are speaking of those who are in the ‘minority point of view’ regarding a candidate or an issue. It is our position that preferential voting systems, contrary to the claims of pro-IRV groups, diminish the ‘say’ that those in the minority have in an election, because it favors the majority in power, whoever that may be.

“Steven Brams, PhD, NYU Department of Politics, says ‘runoff elections’ are designed to keep a strong minority candidate from winning. It stands to reason that the ‘majority’ in power would tend to have the most factions, of which votes for those candidates would transfer to other factions within the ‘majority.’ That is, the Green Party’s votes would more often than not transfer to the Democratic candidate, or the Libertarian candidate’s votes would transfer to the Republican candidate, etc.

“As to how IRV hurts minorities/people of color, it simply hurts them the same way as it hurts everyone: by diminishing the voter’s right to cast an effective vote for the candidate of his/her choice.”

Perhaps because of the pending legal issues involved, we were unable to obtain opposing positions by our press deadline. Minneapolis City Council Member Ralph Remington’s office did contact us and refer us to his op-ed piece in the Spokesman-Recorder explaining why he supports IRV. Also, FairVote Minnesota’s website, www.fairvotemn.org, contains exhaustive examinations of the issues raised here.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance web address is www.mnvoters.org.

Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to isaac3rd@comcast.net.