OPINION | Is ranked choice voting better?

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As you went to the polls to cast your vote in the Minneapolis mayoral and city council races, like me, you may have been wondering about this fairly new voting method known as ranked choice voting (RCV).

Minneapolis first used RCV in November of 2009. Currently Minneapolis is among the vanguard in using ranked choice voting; other cities using this method are St. Paul, MN, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro CA, Takoma Park, MD, Hendersonville, NC and, Cambridge, MA.

This November, many of us made our way to the pools to use ranked choice voting in the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral and city council election. Now that Minneapolis has adopted RCV for the majority of city offices, how is it considered better than the traditional one candidate one vote method?

Here is how ranked choice voting works. After all the votes are in, the votes are tabulated using an algorithm. In theory, it is possible for one candidate to win in the first round, if they get a plurality of first choice votes, 50% plus 1. In the first round, those with the fewest first choice votes are eliminated, and in a field of 35 candidates, that will eliminate quite a few. This is where it becomes very important to mark a 2nd and 3rd choice. You are allowed to mark just one choice. But, if your first choice does not do well in the first round, you will have no candidate to represent your choice in the second round. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 30 of the 35 candidates are eliminated in the first round. If you picked any of them as your first choice, then your first choice won’t count.

Then, the ballots are counted for your second choice and awarded to that candidate. In the first round, let’s say Mr. Gray got 40% of the first choice votes, while Ms. Green got 35% of the first choice votes. The rest of the first choice votes went to the three remaining candidates. Now, in round two, Ms. Green gets 20% of the second choice votes, while Mr. Gray garners only 10% of the second choice votes. Ms. Green then wins with 55% of the vote, a sure plurality.
In theory, ranked choice voting seems relatively simple. However, in execution it gets complicated. That is why we have the machines do it for us.

Advocates of ranked choice voting like to point out that it eliminates primary elections. Since primaries are notorious for low voter turnout and add extra costs, I agree RCV is an improvement.

Michael Knowlen is a Powderhorn Resident.

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