FAQ: Ranked Choice Voting for St. Louis Park

FAQ: RCV for St. Louis Park

1.   What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?

Ranked Choice Voting is a method of voting in which voters rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. It is a simple, commonsense reform that mandates elected officials have broad support and allows for more –and more diverse – candidates to run for office, giving voters more choice and more power in the ballot box.

RCV simulates a runoff, but in a single, decisive election in November when voter turnout is highest and most diverse. Voters rank their preferences knowing that if their first-choice candidate is eliminated in the runoff, their second choice will count. And if their second choice is defeated, their third choice will count, and so on.

If no candidate receives a majority of first choices, the least popular candidate is defeated and votes for that candidate are reassigned to remaining choices based on the second preferences on those ballots. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of continuing ballots.  As a result, every vote counts and very few votes are wasted. Most importantly, voters are empowered to vote their conscience without worrying about “playing the spoiler” or “wasting their vote.”

There's no perfect voting system, but RCV is a more effective, efficient, inclusive and participatory way to elect the most popular candidates than winner-take-all and two-round (primary-general) elections in which someone can win with a mere plurality. 

2.   Why is RCV needed in St. Louis Park?

In May, 2017 the St. Louis Park City Council voted to amend the city charter to  eliminate the municipal nonpartisan primary, which narrowed the candidate field to two candidates for each race. The decision was based on the fact that municipal primaries are expensive and have very low voter participation.

While eliminating the low-turnout, high-cost primary was a positive step, the primary was an essential step in the runoff process to narrow the field (to two candidates) and ensure whoever won in November was the choice of a majority of voters. Simply eliminating that step means that all the candidates will be on the ballot in November and in competitive multi-candidate races, the vote will be split several ways and candidates can win with less than a majority of votes. The recent four-way Ward 1 primary race is a good example of such a race, with no candidate emerging with a majority of votes.

Changing to a winner-take-all system that produces plurality outcomes, in which winners would not have a majority mandate to govern, would be a step backward for St. Louis Park.

Rather than eliminate the primary, RCV combines the primary and general election into one election, and provides for an “instant runoff” to ensure that the most popular candidates win.

3.   So, there would be no primary in August for city races?

That's correct, due to the city council’s recent decision.  So even if RCV is not adopted, voter would have only one election to attend in November. Using RCV in the general election would ensure the will of the majority prevails. 

4.   How do I mark my ballot under RCV?

You simply fill in the first-choice oval next to your favorite candidate, the second-choice oval next to your second favorite, and so on. You may rank as many – or as few – as you like. However, the more candidates you rank, the greater the chance that your vote will help to elect someone you like and prevent the election of a candidate you dislike. In other words, try to rank enough candidates so that at least one makes it to the final round. Under RCV, you can vote for your favorite candidate without fear that your vote will be “wasted” because you are assured if your first choice candidate doesn’t garner enough votes to win, your vote will count toward your second choice.

5.   How are the ballots counted?

RCV ballots are counted in rounds. If no one candidate receives a majority of votes (50 percent + 1), the least popular candidate is defeated and those ballots are reassigned to remaining candidates based on the second choice on those ballots. This process continues until one candidate reaches the winning threshold. See a helpful video and learn more about RCV's use in Minneapolis and St. Paul at www.rankyourvote.org

Keep in mind that some voters have only one or two preferences. Therefore, some ballots may be exhausted before the final round of counting if those voters' candidates are no longer in contention. Winning candidates always will have a majority of continuing ballots, i.e., those ballots counting in the final round), but not always a majority of initial ballots cast. It is completely up to each voter to decide how many candidates he or she wishes to rank.

The City Council will adopt rules for how the ballots will be tabulated with the current voting equipment. Fortunately, St. Louis Park has the same voting equipment Minneapolis has and can use the Minneapolis RCV rules as a guide.

The precinct-based voting machines will scan the ballots just as they currently do and report the percent based results for each candidates as they normally within minutes of closing the polls. 

Candidates who win a majority (50% + 1) of first-choice votes are elected. Races that are not determined outright will require additional rounds of counting and tabulated with an electronic RCV tabulation process or the Minneapolis spreadsheet method.  Both are fast, accurate and transparent. The rules and process for tabulation will be decided by the city council. 

6.   May I vote for just one candidate under RCV?

Yes. You may vote for just one candidate. This is called bullet voting.  You also may vote for the same candidate in your first, second, and third choices, but it will not help him or her win.  

If that candidate is less popular than the other candidates and is eliminated in the first round, you will not have a backup candidate to count in the next round. This choice would be analogous to voting in a primary, then skipping the general election if your favorite candidate doesn't make it through the first election. That's why it's in your best interest to rank as many candidates as you wish, rather than "bullet voting” for just your top favored candidate. Voting for the same candidate more than once is the same as voting for them just once: your ballot will count for your first choice as long as that candidate remains in the race.

7. If I add a second and or third choice, could it cause my candidate to lose?  

No.  Your second or third place choices will not be counted as long as your first choice candidate has not been eliminated.  

8.   Does RCV give some voters more votes than others?

No. Every voter gets an equal vote. In every round of counting, every ballot counts as one vote for the highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your candidate is still viable, your vote will count for your favorite candidate in the runoff round. If your candidate has been eliminated – just as in a traditional runoff election – you need to settle for one of the remaining candidates. Your vote automatically counts for whichever continuing candidate you prefer. The mistaken impression that some voters get more votes than others was the basis for a legal challenge to RCV in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that RCV fully complies with the principle of "one person, one vote" and gives equal weight to each voter.

9.   Is Ranked Choice Voting easy?

Yes.  Completing an RCV ballot is easy. Various polls and studies have shown that voters prefer to rank their ballot rather than vote for just a single candidate. Voters understand that if they vote for a candidate who is eliminated their ballot will count for their second choice rather than being wasted.  In 2017, 92 percent of polled Minneapolis voters said RCV was simple to use. 

10.   Will new equipment be needed to conduct RCV elections?

No. RCV will not require new voting equipment.  Hennepin County, which provides the election system for St. Louis Park, has new RCV-compatible machines that can deliver fast results. They can read a ranked ballot, create a data file of rankings and export a data file of rankings for independent tabulation. 

Automatic tabulation software may be certified  is anticipated by the next election cycle, but if the software is not available certified by the time St. Louis Park implements RCV, the city can use the existing expedited spreadsheet system already in use in Minneapolis to complete the tabulation of RCV races. That system produces results in a city council race, which would be equivalent to a mayoral size race in St. Louis Park, in a couple of hours.

11.  Does RCV disenfranchise less affluent voters or people of color?

No.  This is a misinformed myth. The reality is that all groups of voters find RCV easy to understand and simple to use. In the first citywide test of RCV in Minneapolis in 2013, nearly 90 percent of voters ranked their ballots and 85 percent of polled voters – across all income, ethnic and age groups – said they found RCV simple to use.

More than two-thirds of voters said they were familiar with RCV before going to the polls.  Similar rates of understanding and ease of use are seen in St. Paul and in cities across the country where RCV is used.

RCV has been rolled out smoothly in numerous cities across the country. St. Louis Park would be no different.  As has happened in Minneapolis and St. Paul, FairVote Minnesota and the League of Women Voters would assist in conducting community voter education to ensure voters are aware of the change and prepared to rank their ballots on Election Day.

12.  Does RCV increase representation for women and communities of color?

Yes.  Election results show that the RCV leads to increased opportunities for people of color and women to run and win elected office.  See full 2017 election results in Minneapolis and St. Paul here. 

In California, where RCV has been used since 2004:

  • People of color have won 60% of all contests.
  • Women have won 40% of all contests.
  • 13 of 18 seats on the San Francisco council are people of color, an increase of 8 before RCV.
In Minneapolis, where RCV has been used since 2009:
  • Following the first competitive races in 2013, RCV resulted in the city’s most ethnically diverse and gender-balanced city council.
  • The first Somali-American, Latina, and Hmong candidates were elected to the city council.
  •  This year (2017), the number of candidates and winners who are women and people of color o is historically high.
  • Competitive candidates of color ran in the mayoral race and for 8 of 13 council seats. Competitive women candidates ran for mayor and 11 of 13 council seats.
In St. Paul, where RCV was introduced in 2011:
  • The first African American mayor was elected in 2017. 
  • In 2015, Rebecca Noecker was elected with second-choice votes to become the ward’s first female council member.
  • In 2013, RCV elected the city’s first Hmong city council member with second-choice votes. The second-place finisher, also a candidate of color, was selected to be the councilmember’s chief aide.
13.   Does RCV lead to higher voter participation and  turnout?
 
RCV naturally increases voter participation in the election of the winner by rolling the low-turnout primary into a single decisive election in November when turnout is higher and more diverse. Turnout in any election is determined by many factors; most importantly, the level of competitiveness of a race, media attention and GOTV efforts. 
 
RCV fosters more competitive races, as was seen in the 2017 elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In both cities, turnout was at a near 20-year high. 
 
And in the 2013 election cycle in Minneapolis, turnout in the mayoral race was the highest it had been in 12 years. In St. Paul’s Ward 2 RCV race in 2015, turnout was 33% higher than in 2011, and the highest it has been in 8 years. 
 
Contrary to concerns by some that RCV would deter turnout, we’re seeing just the opposite — that it engages more candidates and voters in the process and is resulting in higher turnout. 
 
14.   Do RCV ballots have a lot of errors?
 
No. RCV elections do not have significantly more errors than traditional elections. In the 2017 Minneapolis and St. Paul elections, less than half of one percent of all ballots cast in the mayoral race had errors, such as an over- or under-vote. Ninety percent of these were correctable errors, resulting in a 99.96 percent valid ballot rate. Pretty impressive!
 
15.   Does RCV really help tone down negative campaigning?
 
Yes.  Switching to RCV has led to an increase in substantive, issue-based campaigning and a decrease in negativity and mudslinging in elections across the country, including in Minnesota. In the highly competitive 2013 Minneapolis mayoral race, candidates clearly stood apart on some issues and found common ground on others, without resorting to attacks. While negative campaigning isn’t as common in local elections as it is in state or federal partisan races, it does happen and RCV discourages that behavior. And when it does happen, it is likely to backfire. This results in a loss of votes for candidates who engage in negative behavior, or by PACS and Independent Expenditures working on behalf of those candidates. We saw this in the 2017 races in Minneapolis and St. Paul when negative campaigning lost votes to candidates it hoped to help. 
 
Contrary to concerns that candidates might become more polarizing to distinguish themselves, RCV has had exactly the opposite effect — it has mitigated extremism and highly polarizing campaigns in Minneapolis and St. Paul. 
 
16.   Will RCV result in a ballot with too many candidates?
 
Not likely.  This concern has arisen following the long list of candidates in the 2013 mayoral race in Minneapolis. This was an anomaly and unlikely to occur again in Minneapolis, and is highly unlikely in smaller communities like St. Louis Park. The large number of candidates in 2013 was the result of that year being the first competitive open mayoral race in 12 years, coupled with no party endorsements and a very low filing fee. The city has since implemented a requirement to collect a minimum number of signatures or pay a higher filing fee. The result is a much smaller list of filed candidates for mayor in 2017. In council races, the number of candidates running in an open or competitive race is typically between three and five.
 
17.  Does RCV favor one party over another?
 
No, RCV does not favor any particular party. And, it is important to note that RCV in St. Louis Park will be implemented for nonpartisan city offices. 
 
For state partisan races, some are concerned that RCV will hurt the two-party system or favor one party over another. This is a misplaced concern. RCV is a non-partisan reform that promotes more partisan competition and gives voters more choice without concerns of spoiler dynamics.  
RCV ensures that outcomes reflect the will of the majority of voters regardless of party affiliation.  RCV is all about increasing the range of viable choice for voters by eliminating the fear of spoiler candidates, regardless of party affiliation. That’s just good, smart democracy that is truly representative. Furthermore, RCV has been endorsed by political leaders from all parties.
 
18.   How do we adopt RCV in St. Louis Park?

The process of adopting RCV is by amending the city charter. Like Minneapolis and St. Paul, St. Louis Park has a city charter that can be amended to allow for a different voting system. The charter can be amended by a unanimous vote by the City Council as a recommendation by the Charter Commission (as was the case for the amendment to eliminate the city primary) or via referendum in the November election. A question proposing RCV for city elections could be placed on the ballot through a vote by the Charter Commission or City Council, or by a petition of the voters. Note, this change impacts only mayoral and city council races; not elections for school board, governor, state legislature, or Congress.

If adopted this year (2018), RCV could be used as early as 2019. The City Council would approve the rules for conducting the election. Minneapolis provides a ready blueprint for using RCV in St. Louis Park and elsewhere in Hennepin County. 

19. What is the City Charter? 

St. Louis Park has a Home Rule government, which means it has a Charter which allows it to control much of how it governs locally, including how it conducts its elections. There is a Charter Commission made up of 15 members of the community who are responsible for any changes to the Charter.  

Serving on the Charter Commission is a volunteer position. Visit the SLP city website for more information about applying for a position.

20.   Where else is RCV used?

Ranked Choice Voting is a long-standing and proven voting system used in democracies across the world, including Australia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and London.

RCV is also used in several U.S. jurisdictions, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Portland, (MA), San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro (CA), Telluride (CO), Takoma Park (MD), Cambridge (MA).  It  also was used in Aspen (CO) and Burlington (VT) before being repealed in efforts led by candidates who were angry over losing under the new system. RCV’s popularity has prevented this dynamic from rolling RCV back in the other cities. In fact, we are seeing a new wave of cities across the country exploring and implementing RCV.

If St. Louis Park adopts RCV, it will be the third city in Minnesota, and potentially the next city nationwide, to make the switch.

RCV is pending implementation in Sarasota (FL), Benton County (OR), Santa Fe (NM), and Memphis (TN). Cities in Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, New York, Washington, Maryland, Nevada and elsewhere are exploring RCV.

Maine became the first state to adopt RCV for state and federal elections beginning in 2018. Several other states use RVC for military and overseas voting: South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois and Louisiana

Fun Fact:  RCV is used to select the Best Picture at the Oscars.

21.  How will voters be educated about the change to RCV? 

 
Ensuring voters are informed and educated about the switch to RCV is important. We know that once voters become familiar iwth the process, it is simple for them to use. The city of St. Louis Park will partner with organizations like FairVote Minnesota and LWV St. Louis Park to help with voter education. Additionally, candidates, election judges, St. Louis Park Elections Office staff, and City Staff will receive educaiton and training.  Several mock election events in St. Louis Park are currently being held to give voters practice ranking their choices.  
 
22.  Can we use Ranked Choice Voting for School Board?
 
Not at this time. School Board elections are governed by state statute, not City Charter.  There currently is a bipartisan RCV Local Options bill that, if passed, would allow for school boards in Minnesota also to use RCV.

23.  What would be needed to implement Ranked Choice Voting statewide?

 
There currently is no bill for adoption of RCV for state partisan races. The enactment of RCV for state level elections would require a majority vote by the legislature and approval by the governor.  The legislature also could approve a statewide referendum on RCV for approval by the voters.

Become a Volunteer

Volunteer

Contribute and help us

Build a better democracy

Join the Movement

Join the Movement