A proposal would have Hopkins voters elect city officials in a new way-- by ranking them. The approach would ensure that the winner has majority support.
Star Tribune West Metro edition - Last update: January 10, 2006 – 10:49 AM
A NEW WAY TO VOTE
Hopkins voters could elect their City Council in a novel way as early as 2007. On Tuesday, the City Council will consider adopting a method called instant runoff voting for city elections.
HOW IT WORKS
Instant runoff voting is designed to assure that candidates who have majority support are elected, even in races where there are several candidates who would otherwise split the vote. Voters would rank candidates in order of their preference. A candidate can win by receiving more than 50 percent of the first-place votes. However, if no candidate wins an outright majority, the candidate with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated. Then that candidate's supporters have their second-choice votes counted and redistributed to the other candidates. The process is continued until one candidate is elected with majority support.
The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1010 1st St. S., for a public hearing on the voting method, which has been recommended unanimously by the city Charter Commission.
The change would require the council's unanimous vote, and if the council approves it, Hopkins residents who want to block it still could seek a referendum on the proposal by submitting within 90 days a petition with at least 178 signatures -- 2 percent of the number of votes cast in the city during the last statewide election.
Supporters say instant runoff voting ensures that candidates won't be elected with the support of a minority of the electorate. They say the voting method is relatively easy to understand and allows people to vote for third parties without worrying that they are wasting their vote.
Detractors say instant runoff could confuse voters and is unnecessary. In 2004, the state House of Representatives, led by Republican leaders, defeated a bill to allow Roseville to conduct instant-runoff voting in city elections. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, questioned whether the method is constitutional. "The Constitution is 'one person, one vote,' " Sviggum said. "You don't get two or three or four or five votes. That's not what making choices is."
If adopted, it wouldn't be the first time that Hopkins used a voting method different from the rest of the state. From 1947 to 1959, Hopkins voters used a similar, but more complicated, method of voting by having residents rank their choices for city offices.
IS IT LEGAL?
While Roseville needed legislative approval for its instant-runoff voting plan, Hopkins won't because the cities have different legal classifications. Hopkins is a home-rule charter city rather than a statutory city, giving it more power to set its own election rules. A spokesman for Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, who oversees elections, confirmed that instant runoff voting would be legal for Hopkins.
New voting machines being purchased in Minnesota might not have the capability of handling the complicated task of counting instant runoff votes. If the right voting machines and software aren't available, the city would be allowed under the ordinance to return to a more traditional voting method. For the full proposal, go to www.hopkinsmn.com.