Editorial: State needs vote-by-number debate | Fair Vote Minnesota


Editorial: State needs vote-by-number debate

Last update: July 08, 2006 11:15 PM

Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/561/story/539444.html

Instant runoff voting offers return to majority rule.

To democracy-loving eyes, there was a sweet simplicity about the ballot-counting in the three-way contest for U.S. Senate endorsement at the Independence Party convention June 24. Three middle-aged men in Bermuda shorts sat on the floor, sorting paper ballots into piles, then sorting them again.

Voil! All it took was 15 minutes of hasty paper-pushing (for storm clouds were menacing overhead) to secure the requisite 60 percent vote for one candidate. None of the tedious subsequent ballots customary at other parties' conventions was necessary. Robert Fitzgerald of Rothsay, Minn., had been endorsed with only one ballot, thanks to instant runoff voting.

It was a nifty display of a voting method that could serve Minnesota well. Instant runoff -- in which voters rank three or more candidates in order of preference -- is already in use in Ireland, Australia, London, San Francisco and Burlington, Vt. A city charter amendment that would bring the vote-by-number method to Minneapolis in 2009 or 2013 appears headed to city ballots this fall.

The charter question should generate a robust debate that spills far outside city borders. The question before Minneapolis is one the whole state should consider: How best can the will of the majority be made known in state and local elections?

When only two candidates vie for office, determining the will of the majority is easy. The candidate who gets the most votes has the majority's backing.

But Minnesota's propensity for spawning third parties and encouraging independent candidacies has made two-way races for statewide office scarce. Three-way races for the Legislature also are popping up with some frequency.

The last two gubernatorial elections were decided by a plurality of voters, not a majority. Which candidate would have won in a two-way race was a left as a matter for speculation. Govs. Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty were denied the opportunity to claim a majority mandate for their programs, which hobbled them in dealing with their opponents in the Legislature.

The vigor with which the Independence Party is campaigning for state offices this year suggests that a plurality could again decide who fills state government's top seats. That prospect should invite statewide examination of the voting change that Minneapolis voters will consider.

Those who favor instant runoff voting have some selling to do. Voting by number sounds easy, but counting the ballots can be complicated -- especially when the contest in question is for more than one seat on, say, the city park or library board. Voters need assurance that voting machines can handle that count accurately and quickly. The constitutionality of instant runoff voting has been called into question by its foes. That question needs a clear answer before Nov. 7.

Voters also need to be prepared to see through the fog that critics of instant runoff voting can be expected to foment. The plurality-takes-all status quo has been good to any number of politicians. Many of them would be loath to see it replaced. But as they raise questions about instant runoff voting, they need to be asked one too: In a democracy, shouldn't the majority rule?






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