Minneapolis may get new way of voting

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A two-year campaign to change the way Minneapolis votes got a surprisingly positive response Friday in City Hall, but supporters face more obstacles before the idea lands on the November ballot.

The City Council agreed to refer to the Charter Commission a proposed ordinance eliminating primary elections and establishing Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the city’s legal voting method. The 11–1 vote came after a lively discussion on voter turnout, implementation costs, and whether the state would allow such a change. IRV allows voters to rank their preferences rather than voting for a single candidate.

“This is a courageous move,” said Council Member Cam Gordon. “It’s a way to ensure we get a majority of the people involved in government.”

Mayor R.T. Rybak called the move “a very exciting opportunity for the city of Minneapolis” and argued that it was “absolutely clear” that the election system needed to be improved to encourage more turnout.

But Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy said the change would confuse voters and would have the effect of limiting people’s choices. “It’s changing something very fundamental to this country,” she said.

And Council president Barbara Johnson, who cast the only negative vote, argued that questions of cost and legality should be answered before moving the idea forward.

Council Member Diane Hofstede sought to derail the vote by offering an amendment calling for a broader study of alternative voting strategies, but IRV supporters easily rejected it, noting that city officials have been monitoring those issues already.

Hofstede and Colvin Roy eventually agreed to support the referral. The Charter Commission will have 60 days to debate the measure and decide whether to put the question on the November ballot or suggest an alternative, in which case the matter will return to the council.

After the vote, Tony Solgard of Fair Vote Minnesota said he was “overwhelmingly surprised at the vote. To have this kind of support is overwhelming.”

Charter Commission chair Jim Bernstein is said to be an IRV opponent, but Solgard said he was confident that the commission would allow the ballot initiative to go forward.

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