On Nov. 3 voters saw a major ballot change for City of Minneapolis municipal elections. In accordance with the Ranked Choice Voting Ordinance in the Minneapolis City Charter (Title 8.5 Elections – Chapter 176), voters were given a chance to rank up to three choices for who they wanted for Mayor, on City Council, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and the Park and Recreation Board. Voters can still write in a candidate for any office.
Special School District No. 1 (the Minneapolis School Board) does not have the ranked choice option and ballot questions are still simply answered as a yes or no.
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Most voters already knew about the change to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) before going into the voting booth because of the extensive news coverage and the city’s efforts to raise public awareness of the issue.
The change came as a result of Charter Amendment No. 161 (A proposal to use Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis Elections) that passed in 2006. The referendum was headed by FairVote Minnesota, an organization that “[works] for better democracy through public education and advocacy.”
On Nov. 7, 2006 there were 149,318 ballots cast in the municipal elections. In regards to the RCV question, 78,741 voted yes, 42,493 voted no, and 28,084 abstained. Nov. 3, 2009 was the first opportunity for Minneapolis voters to use this new election system.
Many voters feel that the RCV system could give them the opportunity to vote for third party candidates without feeling as if their vote is being thrown away. In addition, the RCV system can make it easier to remove an unpopular office holder who is running again. One voter said, “If you don’t like an incumbent and [he or she] doesn’t get a majority, it’s like getting another chance to vote against [him or her].”
As a Charter City, Minneapolis is only able to choose its voting system for municipal elections. This means that voters do not have the option to rank their choices for county, state or federal elections. In 2010, the traditional method of voting will be used at both the Primary on Sept. 14, 2010 and the General Election on Nov. 2, 2010. One voter thought that if RCV were expanded to these other elections, “it could simplify the process because it might eliminate the need for a primary.”
RCV is used in other cities nationwide and there are many different methods of voting and counting the ballots. For single seat elections in Minneapolis (the Mayor, City Council Members, and the Park Board District Commissioner), RCV uses the “Single Transferable Vote” method. All the ballots are sorted and counted, and the first choice votes are tallied. If no candidate achieves the threshold to win, 50% plus one vote, the winner is selected through a series of rounds. Candidates who received the lowest number of votes are eliminated. Voters who cast their top vote for eliminated candidates will have their votes redistributed to their next choice. If there are only two candidates left and neither has a majority, the candidate with the most votes is elected.
The process is complicated but voters found the pictures on the ballot to be very helpful and the election judges at their polling place were able to explain any confusion they had.
The most puzzling aspect for most voters was the multiple seat elections. They are counted using the “Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method.” Similar to the single seat method, all of the ballots are sorted and counted, and the first choice votes are tallied. Any candidate who reaches the winning threshold is elected. The threshold for the Board of Estimate and Taxation, two seats, is 33% plus 1 vote. For the Park Board, three seats, the threshold is 25% plus 1 vote.
If the seats are not filled, all candidates who have no mathematical chance of winning are eliminated. Votes for the eliminated candidates are then redistributed to the voters’ next choices. If the seats are still not filled, votes from the candidate’s with the largest number of surplus votes are redistributed to the next choice on those ballots. If the seats are still not filled, the process of eliminating candidates who have the lowest number of votes is repeated. This process continues until all the seats are filled. If no candidate receives the required threshold after the entire counting process is complete, the highest vote getters are elected.
Since there is no obligation to vote for a second or third choice, many voters who knew about the process still chose not to utilize the RCV option. One reason voters chose not to use it, is that it takes a lot of time to research all of the candidates. A voter said, “I chose not to use it because I didn’t have enough information about all of the candidates. It’s important to have information about them beyond just their parties before you vote. Since I hadn’t taken the time to research them all, I thought it would be better to not do it blind.”
Another reason voters did not use the RCV option is because they knew who they liked and did not want to push someone else toward winning. A voter said, “I did not want to give anybody else a chance to win when I didn’t care about those other candidates… If I had been on the fence about somebody, then I might have used the option to rank them.”
Even with its downfalls, voters seem to appreciate the opportunity to rank candidates if they so choose and are “glad we have it. It’s been long overdue.”
Since the results are not in yet, coupled with the fact that non-presidential elections tend to have low voter turnout, the true implications and results of the Ranked Choice Voting system on the City of Minneapolis government remains to be seen.