St. Cloud Times -- Our view: Runoff voting warrants hard look

St. Cloud Times

Times Editorial Board

November 12, 2006

If Minnesotans are serious about trying to loosen the grip the DFL and Republican parties have on Minnesota politics and government, then serious electoral attention should be paid to Minneapolis.

Why? That's where residents by a 2-to-1 ratio voted Tuesday to replace traditional voting systems with instant-runoff voting in deciding races for mayor, City Council and three other city boards.

How this systems works there could hold valuable lessons for the rest of the state.

This is a process to watch, but it is too early to decide if it deserves endorsement.

Instant-runoff voting essentially allows voters to rank their choices for office, not choose a single candidate. Votes are tallied and if nobody wins a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes on those ballots are transferred to the remaining candidates. Votes are counted again, and that cycle continues until one candidate wins a majority.

Clearly, your perception of this voting system depends on whether you support continuing the two-party lock, or if you believe the two-party system — so dependent on using big money to highlight big differences — deserves to be reformed sooner, not later.

We bring this up now because last week's statewide election results make it look more and more unlikely that a third major political party will be able to gain enough momentum to seriously challenge the DFL and Republican machines.

Sorry, Independence Party members, but as much as we appreciate quality candidates such as Peter Hutchinson and John Binkowski this year and Tim Penny and Jim Moore in 2002, the IP just doesn't have the charisma or cash (or both) to keep up with the big dogs.

Just look at the gubernatorial numbers. In the wake of the Jesse Ventura celebrity aberration of 1998, IP candidate Penny earned about 16 percent of the vote four years later. And this year Hutchinson collected only 6.4 percent.

What happens in 2010? Indeed, under current rules, the IP could lose major-party status, ultimately proving the historical theory that major third-party movements seldom last more than three election cycles.

That would be too bad because most IP candidates for major offices have generally gotten stronger with each campaign. They've provided detailed, thoughtful platforms just as worthy of consideration as DFL and Republican proposals.

In our opinion, the fact that they are attracting fewer voters is a sign of how strong a lock the other parties have on everything from money to media coverage.

Of course, opponents of instant-runoff voting make a good case that it flies in the face of why this constitutional republic was created and that it gives too much influence to people with too little support.

Those are good points. On the other hand, isn't the goal of voting to elect the best person — not the best party — for the job? Is the current system able to do that?





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