Minneapolis’s instant-runoff voting gives more hopefuls more time to campaign


New in Minneapolis: Every candidate in the running for a city office stays in the race through the general election on Nov. 3.

That’s no biggie for the kind of candidates who in past years could be confident of a first- or second-place primary-election finish. But for many lesser-known candidates, it may be most significant element of the city’s new instant-runoff voting system (IRV).

With nearly 100 candidates having filed for city offices, IRV could theoretically trigger tallying of voters’ lower-ranked preferences in as many as 22 races. But most seats will probably still be won by a single candidate with a majority of votes. Those results won’t trigger IRV, meaning no second-round suspense for runners-up hoping to leapfrog into the lead past front-runners who hold mere plurality leads.

A typical race is in the city’s Ward 3, which drew five city council candidates this year — as it did last time, for an open seat in 2005. Then, only DFL endorsee Diane Hofstede and Green-backed Aaron Neumann survived the primary and campaigned into November.

This year, Hofstede (now the incumbent, again the DFL endorsee) must contend for three more months with all four of her challengers: Libertarian Raymond Wilson Rolfe, Republican Jeffrey Cobia, DFLer Allen Kathir, and Melissa Hill, who is running under the banner of “Civil Disobedience.”

Due to personal circumstances, Hill isn’t able to run the full-bore campaign she had planned on earlier in the year — when, she says, she was courted by several political parties, including the Greens.

But thanks to IRV and the lack of a primary election, Hill is guaranteed time to get out her message about the value of political protest and civil liberties.

Hill was among the 100 arrested in downtown Minneapolis after the Rage Against the Machine concert during the Republican National Convention (RNC) last year.

“They shouldn’t be mass-arresting people. It’s completely bogus,” Hill said. “People in power were complacent when that happened.”

Hill went on to volunteer with the Community RNC Arrestee Support Structure (CRASS) and organize protests against the Federal Reserve Bank.

Now she wants to “promote the idea of civil disobedience — and use electoral politics to do that.”

Running for election was already a cheap megaphone — “Filing for office only costs $20,” Hill notes — but under IRV it’s an even better value.

So far, Hill’s effort is focused on a few Facebook pages. Kathir, the DFL challenger, is on Facebook, too, but he also has a full-fledged campaign website up and running — on solar power, even. (He’s trying to run a carbon-neutral campaign.)

There he sports a broader platform than Hill’s: community and public safety, the environment, the economy, housing, and responsiveness to constituents. But like Hill, Kathir was motivated by a personal experience with city government — in his case, his service on the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights.

Cutting the commission off at the knees by eliminating its complaint investigations unit is a rare action that both Mayor R.T. Rybak and Gov. Tim Pawlenty approve. Kathir said he is disappointed in the mayor’s stance.

An engineer by trade, Kathir brings a scientist’s eye to the campaign, noting that IRV is “definitely the wild card in this election,” he said. The challenge is educating voters that “it’s not just important who your first choice is.”

But the math of IRV — counting second-choice votes on a second round of counting if no one gets a majority of first-choice votes in the first time around — isn’t a ticket into office for a candidate without majority appeal.

“You’re not really going to be able to sneak by,” Kathir said.

Hofstede, who garnered majority votes in both the primary and general elections in 2005, sounded nonplussed about the prospect of facing multiple opponents for 12 more weeks. Her worry about IRV was a more commonly cited concern: voter education.

“There will be confusion with the election,” Hofstede said. “The information that’s coming out is not consistent.”

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