Last month, Eric Black put forth the proposition that
ranked-choice voting (also known as instant-runoff voting) "would help two
three parties." As card-carrying, "big tent" members of that
third party, the Republicans, permit us to make the case that ranked-choice
voting (RCV) will actually benefit all parties and all Minnesota voters.
First, though, a little background. Without much fanfare,
over the last two decades our state has slipped into the habit of electing
plurality winners to office. Only in 1996 and 2006 did we send our U.S. senators to Washington with support from a majority of
the state's voters. Our last governor elected by a majority was Arne Carlson in
Some may think little of this phenomenon, but the truth
is that minority status puts a hobble on our elected officials at a time when
we have a profound need for leaders who can lengthen their stride enough to
step across partisan lines. Far better for them and for us that our
officeholders serve with the benefit of knowing that they were elected with the
support of a majority of voters.
Ranked-choice voting can do that. Under RCV, voters choose the candidate they
prefer as they would on a traditional ballot but also designate a second
choice and additional choices if they wish. If a candidate receives a majority
of votes in the first counting, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with
the least number of votes is eliminated and his or her ballots are divided
among the remaining candidates based on voters' second choices. If there's
still no majority winner, the process repeats until one candidate gains a
majority of support.
Like a traditional runoff, but simpler
Simply, ranked-choice voting is like a traditional runoff
but conducted in a single election, making the process far simpler and more
cost effective than holding a second election to achieve the same purpose.
Ranked-choice voting benefits all parties and voters: It
negates the rationale for "tactical" voting, it increases
participation, and better reflects the diversity of our state. RCV provides
voters greater candidate choice, expands the range of debate and discourages
the worst tendencies of today's attack politics. Any one of these advantages
could be the subject of its own discussion, but since Black's analysis looked
instead at the question of political benefit, it's here where we'll focus the
balance of our attention.
Black endorsed the conventional wisdom that RCV would
favor independent candidates first and Democratic candidates second, basing
this belief on the lopsided support for RCV by Independents and Democrats in Minnesota. There's a circularity to that logic it must
be true because nearly everyone thinks it must be true that is somewhat less
than persuasive to us.
Instead, we subscribe to the notion that Minnesota is a middle-of-the-road state, a view supported
poll, in which 37 percent of Minnesotans surveyed called themselves
"moderates," an equal share "conservative," while 22
percent called themselves "liberal."
GOP, Democrats have moved away from centrism
It appears to us that both the Republican and Democratic
parties have moved away from our state's inherent centrism and are no longer
willing or able to appeal to a majority of voters. Independent candidates have attempted to step
into this vacuum, and some have captured enough votes to split the electorate
enough to produce minority electoral outcomes.
As moderates, we are troubled by this trend and by a
voting system that encourages extremism on both sides of the political aisle.
We believe it is in the long-term political interests of both Republicans and
Democrats that we adopt measures that counter those tendencies toward
extremism. Ranked-choice voting provides this balance. Under an RCV system,
candidates win by appealing not only to their political base but by reaching
beyond the base as well. A candidate behaves differently when he or she knows
that being someone's second choice is a tangible benefit.
Promoters of the conventional wisdom will point to
Minnesota's lopsided party identification numbers our electorate identifies
itself as more Democratic than Republican by a sizable margin as an
indication that such a system will benefit the Democrats more than the
Republicans, but as Black noted in passing nobody really knows for sure
that this is the case. They also will
probably fail to note that party identification has never been weaker in modern
times than it is today. What today's voters really care about are proposals and
programs that work, about solutions that actually fix problems
RCV discourages attack politics
RCV discourages the kind of attack politics we've seen
over the last several elections and instead promotes campaigning based on ideas
and positions. It is a benefit to candidates of any political stripe with ideas
and proposals and who want the interests and preferences of their community to
be reflected at the ballot box. Let the parties put their ideas forward, let
them stand in the light of an issue-oriented electoral process and be judged by
Ranked-choice voting is a tested and successful system
used in cities across America
and in democracies around the world, including Ireland,
Northern Ireland and Australia. It
had a successful rollout last year in Minneapolis
and is on track for implementation in St.
Paul. It's time to take this idea to the state level
for consideration and we hope adoption.
Such a development would be good for all parties and citizens regardless
of their political leanings.
George Pillsbury is a former state senator (1971-82).
The Pillsburys have been active for many years in the Republican Party and
civic life in Minnesota.