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La Prensa endorses Instant Runoff Voting

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La Prensa de Minnesota
Posted on 10-14-2006
IRV Voting would empower underrepresented communities
http://www.laprensademn.com/print.php?nid=325&origen=1

La Prensa Editorial Council
alberto@lcnmedia.com, marco@lcnmedia.com
Recently many of us have been seeing lawn signs and ads all over the city of Minneapolis that say vote for IRV on November 7th. Most of us are probably still wondering what this is all about.

Let us try to explain in the simplest way possible what IRV is all about. IRV voting or Instant Runoff Voting is a new form of voting for Minneapolis city offices that is being proposed to voters on November 7th.

This is how the election would work: Instant Runoff Voting is a rank-ballot form of voting that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, that candidate wins. If not, a virtual instant runoff election is held and the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes cast for this candidate are transferred to the second choice listed on each ballot. That process is repeated until there is a majority winner. In multi-seat elections, all voters have one vote. Giving voters one vote, even when there are multiple seats to be filled, makes it possible for more voters to help elect candidates.

Gente de Minnesota and La Prensa de Minnesota endorse this proposal to change the way we vote for several reasons. First we believe it is a more democratic form of voting. Only a candidate with the support from a majority of voters wins the election.

Second we feel minority candidates will have a better chance to get elected under IRV and minority voters will have a stronger voice in electing candidates. This form of voting would eliminate the need for primaries, an election in which only 15 % of voters voted in 2005 and only 8% of voters in wards with the largest minority populations.

Basically there would be only one election.

Primary elections disenfranchise the majority of voters in Minneapolis and, in particular, communities of color. In the last city election in 2005, turnout in the primary was just 15 percent citywide. It was half that – only 8 percent in Wards 4 and 5 – the districts with the greatest share of communities of color, whose influence in electoral politics is much greater in general elections, when GOTV efforts are greatest. Voter turnout tripled in these wards from the primary to the general election, while it only doubled for the other wards, demonstrating how much more likely communities of color vote in a general election than in a primary.

A recent study of one of the races in the 2005 San Francisco elections showed that with no December runoff, voter turnout tripled and saved the city millions of dollars. Increased turnout in communities of color was greatest, showing how IRV can produce a more racially diverse electorate.

Low turnout at the primaries among communities of color means that their candidates are less likely to advance to the general election. Candidates from communities of color currently struggle under the need to demonstrate their viability. Voters currently face the dilemma of voting their conscience for a less viable candidate or voting for a compromise candidate who has a better chance of winning. This makes it difficult for non traditional candidates to get “traction.”

They undermine the goal of two-round (runoff) elections – to elect a candidate supported by a majority of the voters – and call into questions the legitimacy of our elections.

Our current two-round voting system often results in split votes among like-minded constituents, diminishing their power to elect someone who represents them.

The winner-take-all aspect of our current voting system for our independent boards also disenfranchises communities of color because the largest group of voters gains a disproportionate share of representation.

Our two-round runoff system is also costly for candidates, who must campaign for two elections, each requiring its own literature, mailings, phone calls, advertising, and so on. This makes running for office less accessible for candidates with few resources and representing low income candidates.

How will this project empower this constituency?
Instant Runoff Voting is a rank-ballot form of voting that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, that candidate wins. If not, a virtual instant runoff election is held and the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes cast for this candidate are transferred to the second choice listed on each ballot. That process is repeated until there is a majority winner. In multi-seat elections, all voters have one vote. Giving voters one vote, even when there are multiple seats to be filled, makes it possible for more voters to help elect candidates. It is called proportional representation and is a bedrock principle of most major democracies.

IRV benefits communities of color through:

1- Broadening voter participation and choice on the ballot: IRV eliminates low-turnout primaries and brings together in a single election the most voters along with the most candidates to choose from. Turnout in general elections is always significantly larger, more diverse and more representative than in primary elections.

2- Expanding political access for underrepresented communities: IRV ensures that candidates cannot be disqualified in primary elections who may otherwise win in a high turnout, more representative general election. This advantages non traditional candidates who represent underrepresented voters.

3- Giving minorities proportional representation: In elections for at-large seats on the independent boards, all voters gain representation in proportion to their voting strength. The majority rules, but the minority is represented.

4- Making elections fairer: IRV better reflects the voters’ intent. It empowers voters to vote sincerely without being concerned about wasting their vote and, in turn, allows candidates to run on their issues and get an accurate tally of support. It removes the “spoiler” dynamic in which a candidate with minority support wins only because two other likeminded candidates split the majority vote.

5- Reducing the role of money: In addition to eliminating the cost of the Primary, IRV reduces the cost of campaigns and the role of money, thereby making the process more accessible. IRV eliminates one election, making running for office more accessible to candidates from communities of color. The city spends less money with only one election to administer and candidates spend less money with only one election to campaign for.

6- Promoting positive and issue-based campaigning: IRV reduces polarization by bringing multiple viewpoints into the debate and it promotes positive, issue based campaigns.

Not only will IRV give underrepresented communities more political voice and opportunity, the campaign itself is a vehicle for political engagement and influence.

How is the constituency providing leadership for this work?
Several elected officials and other community leaders representing communities of color were early endorsers of IRV. They have been strong and effective voices for the campaign and have helped build critical connections with their constituencies. Council Member Ralph Remington and Representatives Neva Walker and Keith Ellison have made several mind-opening speeches about how IRV creates opportunity for communities of color. Other leaders who are working on behalf of the campaign include council members Don Samuels and Robert Lilligren; School Board member Peggy Flanagan; and community leaders Titi Bediako, Mohamed Jibrell, Jorge Saavedra, Patricia Torres Ray, Antonio Rosell, and Irene Rodriguez. We will continue to seek and build on the leadership representing communities of color.

In addition, many of the 40+ coalition partners represent communities of color. These include the Confederation of Somali Community, Resource Center of the Americas, Take Action Minnesota, Center for Civic Participation, and the Lyndale, Powerhorn Park and Longfellow neighborhoods. We have also had forums with the Whittier Alliance and Jordan Area Community Council and the Urban League.

The work of the Better Ballot coalition has focused on capacity and leadership building. Through these and other coalition partners, hundreds of volunteers have been recruited and trained as speakers, organizers, petitioners and canvassers, among other roles. They have been the arms and legs of the campaign.

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