The old new way of voting.


In November, Minneapolis voters will have the opportunity to state their preferences for a number of city, county and statewide candidates. They may also get to vote on how those votes will be tallied in the future.

Two nonprofit, nonpartisan election reform organizations – the Better Ballot Campaign and FairVote Minnesota –have been working to educate voters on the advantages of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and gathering the signatures necessary to put a referendum on the November ballot that could change the way we vote in Minneapolis.

“We are seeking election reform” said Jeanne Massey, who leads the Better Ballot Campaign’s Organizing Committee.

Also known as Single Transferable Vote (STV), Instant Runoff Voting is a system in which voters rank the candidates in their order of preference (or simply vote for a single top choice). To be considered the winner, a candidate has to earn the absolute majority of the votes (50% +1). If none of them gains the majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Those votes are distributed proportionately among the remaining candidates, until one of them reaches the absolute majority.

In Ireland’s 1990 presidential election, for instance, Brian Lenihan led with 44 percent of the vote after the initial tally of votes, with Mary Robinson (38 percent) and Austin Currie (18 percent) finishing second and third, respectively. Those voting for Currie, however, listed Robinson as a second choice on 15 percent of the ballot while only 3 percent listed Lenihan as a second choice. Thus, Robinson finished with 53 percent to Lenihan’s 47 percent.

According to, this is a 100-year-old voting method, proven to represent the voters’ will more accurately than the current system. Nowadays, a primary election is held to select the two most powerful contenders. A second election has to be held to select one of them as the winner. With IRV, only one election is required.

A one instance election saves the city a lot of money, explains Massey. The candidates and voters also benefit by saving efforts, money and time. The nature of the system promotes alliances between parties with similar views, eliminating negative campaigns. Elections become issue based.

IRV has been proven effective in Ireland, Australia and London. In the U.S., San Francisco and Cambridge are also using it, as is Burlington, Vermont, which held its first IRV election on March 7th. In Minnesota, a recent survey by the League of Women Voters found 90% support for IRV.

Critics argue that IRV is too complicated for voters, but Massey prefers to see it as an opportunity, a chance to educate the voters, to make people more aware of politics and become more involved in their community.
Incumbents tend to oppose IRV, as does the Republican Party. The DFL, Green and Independence parties support it.

The anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) may be IRV’s more vigorous opponents. The group claims that ranking candidates violates the principle of “one man, one vote”; that it “would dilute a person’s vote and would essentially pro-rate it by the number of persons they support in such a runoff”.

But according to the FairVote Minnesota’s website, IRV “makes every vote count as much as possible”. And a recent court decision in Ann Arbor, Michigan, bolsters the group’s claim. In a case involving IRV, the court stated that “no voter’s vote can be counted more than once for the same candidate (…), no voter is given greater weight in his or her vote over the vote of another voter, although to understand this does require a conceptual understanding of how the effect of an IRV System is like that of a runoff election.”

FairVote and Massey’s group aim to place the IRV question on the November ballot in Minneapolis. To achieve that, they are seeking an endorsement from the DFL Party and hoping to collect the required 10,000 signatures by May 8.

IRV advocates eventually hope to use the model to spur national election reform, but that will take years of voter education. After installing IRV in the city of Minneapolis, the Better Ballot Campaign will work to get the system established statewide.

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