News

Brown, Spano: Charter Commission shouldn’t thwart St. Paul voters’ choices

Ellen Brown and Wy Spano l Pioneer Press l April 23, 2017

 

A March 30 column by David Lebedoff (“5 good reasons ranked-choice voting is flawed”) described proponents of ranked-choice voting as “drug pushers.” We’re not sure if that derogatory remark was directed at the more than 7,000 St. Paul voters who signed petitions to get RCV listed as a referendum question on the ballot, or the majority of St. Paul voters who approved RCV as the official electoral system in their capital city in 2009. But no matter which citizens, voters, volunteers or activists the op-ed intended to belittle, it was an insult to every clear-minded person in St. Paul with an interest in fair and democratic elections.

Why are we seeing derogatory attacks on ranked-choice voting by a handful of status-quo defenders? Why are they maligning the majority of St. Paul residents who support this pro-democracy electoral reform?

It’s simple.

Ranked-choice voting takes power from an elite few and gives it to the people.  And RCV is a threat to insiders who want to pull the electoral strings in small-turnout elections. By eliminating an expensive and poorly attended primary in August, RCV brings together the most candidates with the most voters on one decisive day, when turnout is highest and most diverse. This means traditional party bosses can’t decide who should appear on the ballot in November for an ugly “winner take all” slugfest. And insiders can’t peddle their drug of choice, negative campaigning, since RCV asks voters to pick who they think can do the job better, not which candidate of the final two they really want to vote against.

Instead, RCV provides a simple, fair and straightforward method to identify the candidates with whom most voters feel comfortable — if not as their first choice then possibly as their second. This eliminates the need for strategic-voting elections in which candidates are elected without at least some measure of support from a majority of voters — and the resulting disconnection citizens experience when elected leaders do not reflect the will of the majority.

Another column by a game theorist at Carnegie Mellon University (“Don’t return to the democratic dark ages. Keep ranked voting,” April 14) discussed the harmful effect of strategic voting on our democracy.  We agree with this analysis and, while the author also likes a system somewhat different from that used in St. Paul, he urges our city to stay with ranked voting.

It’s imperative that St. Paul leaders — particularly the un-elected members of the St. Paul Charter Commission — listen and respect the will of voters. Commissioners are under tremendous pressure by a single disgruntled member who is determined to put RCV back on the ballot as a referendum question in November. He and the few insiders he’s working with want to repeal RCV and replace it with the old unrepresentative primary — all the while distracting voters from the important task of electing their next mayor under RCV.

St. Paul voters deserve better. They deserve to have their hard work respected in getting ranked-choice voting adopted as their preferred electoral system. By using RCV, St. Paul is one of a growing number of cities leading the nation in providing a viable alternative to our country’s increasing political dysfunction.

RCV gives more choice to voters, encourages candidates to reach beyond their base, fosters more civil campaigns, eliminates spoiler and wasted vote dynamics, reduces the role of money in campaigns and results in winners with broad popular support.

The voters of St. Paul already have said yes to ranked-choice voting. The un-elected Charter Commission should not have the power to thwart their voices.

Ellen Brown is former chair of St. Paul’s Better Ballot Campaign. Wy Spano is director of the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program at Metropolitan State University.

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