1. Low turnout in early August primary. The highest August primary turnout on record, counting all parties, was in 2010 with 15.8 percent. That means a mere fraction of Minnesota voters will determine the ultimate DFL gubernatorial candidate.
2. Negative campaigning. There is no reason to find commonality or consensus under our plurality system; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Candidates (and/or PACs that support them) learn that going negative can help them win, and they engage in that activity even if they don’t want to. Many voters become so turned off they don’t vote at all, potentially driving turnout down even further.
3. The “spoiler effect” out in full force. Expect to see Lori Swanson blamed for “taking” moderate votes from Tim Walz, or Erin Murphy for taking labor votes from Walz, or Patricia Torres Ray and Ilhan Omar for splitting the vote among communities of color, and so on. The bottom line for voters? Fear that their vote will actually help their last choice win.
4. Outsized influence of outside expenditure groups. Our plurality, winner-take-all system is beloved by PACs who can influence the outcome by aligning with only a fraction of the voters. Their single most successful strategy is to raise and spend a lot of money on negative mailings and television ads.
5. A “winner” with as little as 17 percent of the vote. That’s what plurality elections give us--whoever gets the most votes wins, even if that equals a fraction of support from the voters. In a six-way race like we’re seeing in CD 5, the prevailing candidate may very well win with less than 20% of the vote, which means more than 80 percent of voters didn’t support her or him. In the 3-way governor’s race as competitive as this one is likely to be, the winner may emerge with just a third of the vote. Candidates win but the majority loses and the winners lack a mandate advancing to the General Election.
Outcomes would be different under Ranked Choice Voting.
FairVote Minnesota is advocating for use of Ranked Choice Voting in state elections in order to eliminate these divisive and unrepresentative outcomes. Under RCV, voters rank the candidates in order of preference and the candidate with the broadest support wins. Best of all, in RCV elections no one worries about how one candidate’s presence in a race hurts another.
RCV is a proven system used in Minneapolis, St. Paul (and soon in St. Louis Park), San Francisco (in Tuesday's mayoral special election), and many other cities, as well as the nations of Australia, Ireland and Scotland. Next Tuesday, June 12, Maine will be the first state in the nation to use it for state partisan primaries.
If Minnesota used Ranked Choice Voting for primaries, we would see candidates campaigning for and winning with a majority of votes, more positive campaigning (because the candidates want your second choice vote if they can’t be your first), coalition-building among the candidates (see this example of two Maine candidates for governor), less influence by PACs, and no spoiler effect.
More than 600 delegates to the Minnesota DFL 2018 convention signed a letter to the gubernatorial candidates asking them to take action to implement RCV in state elections and make it available for any municipality in the state that wants it. The DFL primary will give us too many examples of why those delegates are right.