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Patrick O'Connor: Ranked choice voting worked well in 2009

Ballot errors are nothing new, and all but one was corrected and counted.


By Patrick O'Connor l Star Tribune l June 11, 2013

In 2006, the civic-minded voters of Minneapolis overwhelmingly adopted a new method of voting for municipal elections called ranked choice voting (RCV). Having served as interim elections director in Minneapolis during the 2009 rollout of ranked choice voting a role of which I will always be proud Ive come to believe that RCV is a marked improvement over the old system.

In recent commentaries, there seem to be some misunderstandings about the 2009 election (This year, we see what RCV is all about, May 28; We already know how RCV fails, June 1) that Id like to clear up.

In particular, some are mistakenly reporting that 10 percent of voters spoiled their ballots in 2009, implying that the ballots werent counted.

The fact is that only one ballot went uncounted in that election. One. Thats astonishing, and something to celebrate regardless of the voting system in use.

The ballots in question were cast with initial errors that were caught, corrected and properly counted as is done in all elections. To be clear, an error could have been an overvote (a vote for more than one candidate in the same column), a duplicate vote (voting for the same candidate more than once) or a skipped ranking (e.g., marking a first choice and a third choice, but not a second choice). Whatever the error, they were corrected by the voter at the poll or by election judges during the ballot counting process.

An important role of voting equipment is to notify a voter if he or she makes an error, and to provide the voter with the opportunity to correct the error. I look forward to new voting equipment that will be able to catch and correct more errors at the polling place.

It bears repeating: Out of approximately 46,000 ballots cast in 25 races, only one ballot in the 2009 Minneapolis election went uncounted and that error had nothing to do with RCV. Its also helpful to keep in mind that the spoiled ballot rate in 2009 was not an anomaly; we see as many as 22 percent of voters in low-turnout wards make mistakes in partisan primaries.

The facts are perfectly clear: Voters are fully capable of ranking their preferences on the ballot. In an independent evaluation I commissioned after the 2009 Minneapolis election, a full 95 percent of voters polled found it simple to use. (The number is even higher 97 percent for voters of color.)

That being said, we should be working to reduce ballot errors even further in this years election. Minneapolis elections officials share this goal and are doing everything they can to ensure that all voters are prepared to accurately cast their ranked ballot this November.

When people often a vocal minority complain that RCV is too complicated for voters, it starts to sound insulting. I believe that Minneapolis citizens are smart, capable and thoughtful voters who will rank their candidates in order of preference with ease and great success.

I do agree with one sentence in a recent commentary: This November, Minneapolis will conduct an RCV election that will demonstrate a new dynamic on how campaigns are run, change what candidates say and do, create potential alignment among competing candidates and provide voters with multiple choices on the ballot.

All of that is true and from where I sit, none of it sounds bad. If changing how campaigns are run means less scorched-earth warfare, great. If changing what candidates say and do means highlighting ideas instead of personal attacks, terrific. If creating potential alignment among candidates means acknowledging common ground a grown-up dynamic we dont see enough of in politics fantastic.

And providing voters with multiple choices on the ballot? By all means! American democracy is suffering for all kinds of reasons, but an overabundance of choice is definitely not among them. I think that most of us welcome more options and more varied options in the election booth.

After the successful 2009 implementation, I called that process one of the most significant civic exercises in Minnesota history. I still believe that, and Im excited to see RCV contribute to a more civil, substantive and inclusive mayoral race this year.

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Patrick OConnor was interim elections director in Minneapolis in 2009.

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