Despite the criticism or uncertainties of a new voting system, Ranked Choice Voting is the law in Minneapolis, says state lawmaker Jeff Hayden. Minneapolis voters in 2006 approved the new voting system, called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and it first will be used in this year’s general election on November 3.
“I think it is convenient to say that [RCV] is going to confuse people, but this became the law [in 2006],” State Representative Jeff Hayden says.
If it was in place when he ran for Minneapolis City Council, RCV perhaps would have helped him in his election chances back in 2005, believes Hayden. “There was a low voter turnout [in the primary], and I came in third on a big primary ballot. The theory is that if we would have had an instant runoff vote, I would have been in the mix for the general election.”
|Educating voters on Ranked Choice Voting
by Charles Hallman, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
In Minneapolis, voters in November will see a new voting system. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant Runoff Voting, approved by city voters in 2006, allows voters to rank multiple candidates — up to three in order of preference — for each municipal office. Minneapolis joins eight other U.S. cities including San Francisco in using such a method to elect city officials.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says he and other state officials are taking a “wait-and-see” approach, watching closely how RCV will work in Minneapolis, which is the first Minnesota city to use it. “This is a chance to see how this particular approach works in a local and nonpartisan election,” Ritchie surmises.
“We will have a little bit better sense of how [RCV] works once Minneapolis conducts its [election] this November,” says St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. His city will have a referendum on the November ballot on whether to use RCV or not. “Hopefully, it will be a good opportunity for people to debate its merits,” adds the mayor.
RCV replaces primary elections. Voters now will only have to go to the polls once, when this year’s general election takes place on November 3. It “reflects the will of the voters,” claims FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey, whose organization is working with local groups in preparing Minneapolis voters prior to November 3 through a series of training sessions throughout the city.
“There will be many ways people will hear about [RCV]: mass media, door-to-door, events and mailings,” Massey explains.
Minneapolis Election Director Pat O’Connor says his office began its outreach efforts beginning on National Night Out back in August. Additionally, brochures and sample ballots were produced to inform voters, and advertisements on city buses also will be used in getting the word out to all city residents before November 3.
“We got a speakers’ bureau, with about 25 speakers lined up, to go to various neighborhood functions and talk about ranked choice voting,” O’Connor notes. “We think that all this outreach for ranked choice voting may bump up the numbers for the election turnout.”
RCV is designed in the following fashion:
Each voter ranks their preferences on the ballot, which will have three columns. Voters will select their top choice, then select their second- and third-choice candidates on the same ballot by marking the columns just to the right of the voter’s first choice. Afterwards, the votes are counted by sorting and counting the first-choice votes for all candidates.
In single-seat elections, the winner will be chosen by a majority of votes. In multi-seat elections, the candidate is chosen by who receives the majority of votes. However, if no candidate receives the required number of votes to win (50 percent plus one) a process of eliminating candidates begins.
Although a voter can vote for just one candidate, Massey strongly suggests that the voter rank their top three choices. Yet, even after attending RCV training sessions, some are still unsure of the new voting system.
Flora McRae says she left with more questions after attending a RCV session. “I didn’t particularly like taking my vote and maybe adding it to the second-choice vote,” she says, adding that ranking candidates is confusing.
Catherine Williams says she thinks RCV may “deter people” from voting.
Angela Jenkins, who works in the city clerk’s office, says she is concerned with whether the Black community “is fully educated, and fully understands the process to be able to make the most informed choices they can on November 3rd.” She wants RCV to “empower, not disenfranchise” voters.
“Hopefully it works, [but] there’s potential for it not to work,” State Representative Jeff Hayden says of RCV. “But I think it does give us a real opportunity to be really progressive and to really give people more of an opportunity to engage civically.”
Massey believes that Minneapolis’ new voting system will benefit everyone: “We have to educate [voters]…on how the new system is going to work. Our goal is try to reach all voters in the city of Minneapolis.”
For more RCV information, go to www.VoteMinneapolis.org.
The new RCV system eliminates the primary, which “typically has lower voter turnouts,” he points out. “People in general, and especially in [the Black] community [are] much more focused on the general election.”
Now, the new city voting system “does give the voter – even voters in our community – more of an opportunity to vote not just for one person, but if they can’t get their first choice, here’s what [their] second choice would be,” says Hayden.
Such proponents as FairVote Minnesota say RCV will create more positive campaigns. Proponents also believe it will create more accurate representation because all candidates will run in the general election and eliminate the need for primary elections. “No votes are wasted,” claims FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey.
“I think the incumbent [officials] stand the most to lose by the new voting method,” says Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges.
“[Candidates] will have to have a different strategy, and [then] actually get a longer time to campaign,” agrees Hayden. “It gives a great potential to focus on the issues more and less on the personality.”
He points to as an example the Fifth Ward City Council race, where four candidates are challenging incumbent Don Samuels in the November general election. If a primary had existed, only the two top vote getters would proceed to the general election, “and that often favors the dominant party or dominant incumbent,” explains Hayden. “Now the incumbent and everybody else are still having the opportunity to knock on doors and give the voter more choice.”
Furthermore, Hayden says each candidate now can not only speak for themselves and on the campaign issues, but also briefly educate voters on the new RCV system as well. If a particular candidate isn’t the voter’s first choice, they can try to convince them to make them their second choice, the state lawmaker points out.
“I think that Ranked Choice Voting gives people the opportunity to ask multiple candidates of what they would do on the issues that are affecting their lives on a daily basis,” surmises Hayden.
Minneapolis City Elections Director Pat O’Connor says his office studied San Francisco’s inaugural results when that city instituted RCV in 2005. “The minority communities [in San Francisco] had the fewest opportunities to learn about ranked choice voting before they went to the polls,” O’Connor asserts, adding that Minneapolis hopes to avoid similar problems occurring here. “Our focus is going to be on those precincts traditionally where we have had lower voter turnout.”
“We need to have an intentional outreach in the communities where low voter turnouts [typically occur],” concurs Hayden. “We need to hire people that speak the language and understand the culture of those communities that have lower voter turnouts.”
However, Hodges says the city cut funding for RCV educational programming. He believes that city officials aren’t doing enough to ensure that all voters fully understand the new system. Instead, organizations such as his are being asked by the city to “essentially do the footwork as far as educating the folk,” he adds.
O’Connor admits that funding isn’t what city officials had hoped. The NAACP will hold a series of informational meetings, beginning in mid-October, the branch president announced.
Nonetheless, Hayden argues that it shouldn’t be up to FairVote Minnesota or city officials alone to make sure that every city voter learn about RCV, but it should be shared by “we as elected officials, advocacy organizations including the NAACP, the Urban League, the media, etc. We have to be responsible in making sure that our constituents, especially those in the Black community, know what is going on.”
Hayden says he fears the possibility of increased “spoiled ballots” as a result of the new voting system, but according to VoteMinneapolis.org, voters can ask an election judge for a new ballot if they make a mistake in marking their ballot.
Despite its detractors, RCV “is going to be what the ballot [will] look like for the foreseeable future,” concludes Hayden.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.