Is instant runoff voting an idea whose time has come in Minnesota?
A panel convened Tuesday at Hamline University by the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits says the answer is “yes.”
The panel consisted of Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie; Minneapolis City Council member Ralph Remington; Hamline Graduate School of Management Professor David Schultz; Former Congressman and Humphrey Institute Senior Fellow Tim Penny; State Representative Carlos Mariani; FairVote Executive Director Jeanne Massey and Minnesota Council of Non-Profits Executive Director Jon Pratt.
IRV is a simple concept. To illustrate how it would work in a hypothetical four-candidate race, the steps are:
(1) On the ballot, each voter would be allowed to rank candidates in order of preference. The most favored candidate would be ranked one, the second candidate two, etc. If one candidate received at least 51 percent of the vote in the first count, that candidate wins the election.
(2) If no candidate received 51 percent of votes, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated, and that candidate’s votes are distributed among the remaining candidates.
(3) If no candidate still has reached 51 percent, the lowest vote-getter of the remaining three is eliminated and the candidate’s votes are divided by the remaining two.
The process continues until one candidate reaches 51 percent and is declared the winner.
Proponents of IRV list several advantages over the present balloting system:
• Every vote is counted, and every vote counts the same.
• Currently a candidate can win a crowded race with a plurality of votes. With IRV, the candidate wins with a clear majority.
• Since voters know that every vote counts, feelings of disenfranchisement are decreased and voter turnout increases.
• IRV has been declared by courts to be constitutional and consistent with the Voter Rights Act.
• The process is ideology and party-neutral.
• The need for and cost of runoff elections are eliminated since the runoff is automatic and happens the same day as the election.
IRV already exists in Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco; other locations are considering it. Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina use a ranked voting procedure for overseas military voters. Minneapolis voters passed IRV last November for its municipal elections. St. Paul is in the signature-gathering phase of getting IRV on the ballot for its next city elections. Of the roughly 5,000 signatures required, more than 4,000 have already been gathered.
Secretary of State Ritchie favors IRV in Minnesota but pointed out that since Minnesota does not have a statewide referendum or initiative process, the state legislature would need to act to make it a reality. “Generally speaking, what we know from other states “is it kind of builds community by community and type of election by type of election,” Ritchie said.
Former congressman Penny called IRV “just the latest phase of making our democracy work better.”