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Don Fraser and George Latimer: Ranked-choice voting upholds majority-rule principle, broadens choice and opens up political process

MinnPost l September 16, 2013

We come from opposite sides of the river, and we disagree about a few things ... like which Twin City is the smartest, most vibrant and best looking.

But weve always shared essential values, including an unwavering commitment to expanding democracy. All of us have a stake in the future of our cities and our state and we all have the right to help shape that future. Thats why were longtime proponents of ranked-choice voting (RCV), which upholds the principle of majority rule, broadens voter choice and opens up the political process to more people.

RCV lets voters rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, third choice. In a single-seat election, if a candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, he or she wins. If not, the least popular candidate is eliminated and his or her ballots are divided among the remaining candidates based on those voters second choices. If theres still no majority winner, this process repeats until one candidate gains a majority of support (or until all seats are filled in a multi-seat election).

Smarter, more inclusive system

In local nonpartisan races like those taking place in Minneapolis and St. Paul this fall this smarter, more inclusive voting system combines two elections into one. RCV achieves what traditional two-round elections (such as an August primary and a November general election) do  in one cost-effective trip to the polls.

We dont miss the August primaries, which almost always produce appallingly low single-digit turnout. Theyre one reason we were early backers of the RCV movement, and continue to staunchly support it today.

Primaries particularly municipal primaries are typically attended by a narrow, unrepresentative slice of the electorate. A study of Boston elections by San Francisco State University professor Richard DeLeon, for example, showed that primary voters are disproportionately older, whiter and wealthier than voters in November general elections. Primaries also give an outsized voice to special interests that activate their base in these elections.

In a democracy if its truly a democracy, and elected office is genuinely a possibility for any bright, committed, passionate and hard-working citizen who yearns to serve theres always culling of candidates to be done.

The question is, who does the culling? We believe that all eligible voters have the right to help determine the worthiest candidates. By combining the two elections into one higher-turnout election, RCV enhances participatory democracy giving all voters a chance to winnow the field.

Requiring minimum number of signatures would help too

There are more effective ways to ensure that voters get to choose from a slate of serious candidates than reverting to the antiquated and exclusionary two-step plurality system. As FairVote Minnesota advisory board member Richard Carlbom and other voting reform advocates have suggested, requiring candidates to collect a minimum number of signatures would help demonstrate their sincerity about seeking public office and weed out the jokers. And it wouldnt give an unfair advantage to candidates with more financial resources.

Voters in the Twin Cities (and beyond) understand RCV perfectly well; the 2011 St. Paul election and 2009 Minneapolis election in which only one single ballot went uncounted proved that. This fall, with the wide-open, multicandidate mayoral race in Minneapolis and a competitive, high-profile multicandidate city council race in St. Paul, RCVs advantages will become even clearer not just to Twin Citians, but outstate Minnesotans as well.

And were excited about the long haul. San Francisco, which has now used RCV for a decade, has shown that RCV ultimately produces more diverse and representative local leadership, and we believe that such longer-term benefits will materialize here, too.

Were prouder than ever to have been on the front lines of the movement that brought RCV whose promise continues to unfold to St. Paul and Minneapolis. See you at the polls in November.

 Don Fraser is a former mayor of Minneapolis, and George Latimer is a former mayor of St. Paul.

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