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Ranked Choice Voting: Myths vs. Facts

Ranked Choice Voting: Myths vs. Facts

Ranked Choice Voting opponents are at it again.  The following dispels the myths propogated in a March 5 Star Tribune commentary by Minneapolis Charter Commission member Devin Rice.

Myth #1: Minneapoliss first RCV election was not successful.

FACT:  By all accounts, the initial rollout of RCV in Minneapolis was a resounding success. 

  • Post-election, Mayor Rybak reported that the good news about the election was there was no news. 
  • There was only one defective ballot in the entire election.
  • Minneapolis election officials received a national award by the National Association of Elected Officials for the quality and effectiveness of the 2009 implementation.

Myth #2: Ballots using ranked choice voting have more errors than traditional ballots.

FACT: Every election, ranked choice or traditional, has the potential for voter error.  In fact, ballot errors are highest in traditional even-year partisan primaries, in which voters mistakenly vote for candidates from more than one party.  In Ward 5, the rate of spoiled ballots in partisan primaries ranged from 13 to 22 percent from 2002 to 2008, compared to 7 percent in the 2009 RCV election. 

All errors in the 2009 RCV election were either 1) caught by the machines, at which point the voter is provided with the opportunity to re-mark his or her ballot, or 2) found and corrected by election officials in a process called "normalization," which exists to provide consistent guidance for elections officials to understand voter intent.

In 2009, Minneapolis's first ranked choice voting election, only one ballot was defective after normalization. This data was certified by Minneapolis City Clerk Joe Carl in February, 2013.

FairVote MN will continue to work with the city to minimize initial ballot errors. This can be done through clearer ballot design and more targeted voter education and outreach.

Myth #3: RCV disenfranchises minority and less affluent voters.

FACT:   Not one voter was disenfranchised by RCV in the 2009 Minneapolis election.  Every ballot, less one (which had an error unrelated to RCV) was counted. 

The incorrect claim that RCV disenfranchises minority and/or less affluent voters was based on the on the number of ballots that required normalization; a number that was higher in select precincts in Ward 5 and a primarily Somali-American neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside.  The error rate in these precincts was higher than average due to the small number of actual voters.  For example, in the predominantly Somali precinct with an error rate of over 20 percent, the actual number of ballots with errors was just 35. The vast majority of voters in all precincts made no errors; and when an error was made, it was corrected and the ballot was counted.

In fact, an independent study performed by St. Cloud State University reported that 95% of Minneapolis voters found ranked choice voting easy to use; and 97% of voters of color found using a ranked choice ballot simple. There is simply no evidence to support the claim that minority voters felt disenfranchised after using ranked choice voting.

In contrast, RCV has been shown to enfranchise communities of color by eliminating low-turnout primary elections which are attended by disproportionately older, whiter, and more affluent voters than the general election.  For example, in 2005 (before RCV was enacted), general election turnout was nearly three times greater than primary turnout (8 percent compared to 21 percent) in Ward 5  which is predominately people of color compared to two times greater for the city overall (15 percent to 30 percent). RCV mitigates this inequity by holding one election in November, when turnout is higher and more diverse.  In San Francisco, effective voter participation has increased as high as 300 percent in traditionally low-turnout precincts.

Myth #4: RCV elections are expensive.

FACT:  Any change in elections incurs start-up costs for education, training, and new ballot design.  Over time, RCV elections saves staff, time, and resources by eliminating low-turnout primaries and consolidating two elections in one.  In addition, all election equipment and ballot-counting tools are on regular replacement schedules.  Municipalities will have to pay to upgrade election equipment regardless of the implementation of ranked choice voting. Mr. Rice points to the aggregate projected cost of the 2013 election, much of which is unrelated to RCV and would also occur under a traditional election (new equipment-related expenses, increased election judge costs with anticipated higher turnout, and contingency funds in the event the city needs to conduct a hand count). Over time, the reduced expense of the eliminated primary is anticipated to yield savings to the city. Read more about the implementation costs in the 2009 election.

Myth #5: RCV reduces the number of minority elected officials.

FACT: Over time, RCV has proven to yield more elected officials from historically underrepresented communities. RCV allows candidates to run without fear of being eliminated in a low-turnout primary, as well as the opportunity to garner votes from voters who are no longer afraid of splitting  or wasting their vote.

In San Francisco, where RCV has been in place for a decade, 16 of 18 elected officials are people of color and RCV played a big role.  In Oakland, the citys first female and Asian-American was elected mayor with second-choice votes under RCV. Outspent 5 to 1, she showed that the way to win an RCV election was not by raising the most money but by having the smartest strategy for securing second- and third- choice votes.

In particular, Mr. Rice cites a candidate of color who lost in a park board race at-large. There are many factors that affect the outcome of an election; to claim that this park board seat was won (or lost) exclusively because of race or because of RCV is naive and short-sighted. Endorsements, name recognition, funding, campaign organization, and competitiveness of the race all play a factor. In this case, the candidate who lost simply didn't garner enough votes to win.

Myth #6: RCV reduces voter turnout.

FACT:  Opponents are quick to blame RCV for the low turnout in 2009. We hope they are as quick to credit RCV for the anticipated high turnout in 2013. The fact is Minneapolis had an extremely popular mayor who was running again in 2009. It was not a competitive, compelling race. Voter turnout was expected to be low, and it was.  Saint Paul also had extremely low voter turnout that year as well, under the pre-RCV system, for exactly the same reason: the lack of a competitive race for mayor.  While there was a competitive citywide park board race in Minneapolis, only a small share of city voters cast a ballot in these races.

As stated above, RCV increases effective voter participation by bringing together the most candidates with the most voters in a single high turnout, diverse election.

Myth #7: RCV doesnt provide majority winners. 

Opponents point to the park board district 5 race in which the winner received less than a majority of initial ballots cast. In that race, the winner received 52.5% of continuing votes.  Not all voters have a preference after their first choice and some ballots were exhausted before the final round. Thats a voters will and under RCV, thats perfectly acceptable.

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