Published in the Southwest Journal, Jan. 30, 2006
By Kari VanDerVeen
A campaign to change the way Minneapolis residents vote in city elections has earned the endorsement of the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood and the Kingfield Neighborhood associations.
The Better Ballot Campaign aims to put a question on the ballot this fall asking voters if they want future city elections to include instant runoff voting. With instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than choosing one. When all the ballots are collected, first choices are counted. If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate who received the fewest votes is defeated. Those ballots are then recounted and the candidate listed as second choice receives those votes. The process is repeated until a candidate receives a majority of votes.
Switching to instant runoff voting would eliminate primary elections. Better Ballot Campaign organizer Jeanne Massey said this is important because primary elections typically have low voter turnout, which eliminates some candidates who otherwise might win if more people were voting. For that reason, EHFNA Chair Julia Paulsen said members of the neighborhood association were enthusiastic about the idea.
“I think people are really intrigued about the idea of getting really good candidates through to the last step of the process,” she said.
Third-party candidates often do better in elections using instant runoff voting because voters can support their favorite candidates without running fear of siphoning support from major-party candidates.
“You know your vote will never go to waste with instant runoff voting,” Massey said.
The Better Ballot Campaign has presented information to about 20 neighborhood associations and rallied support of political and faith organizations. The campaign earned the endorsement of the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association Jan. 4 and the Kingfield Neighborhood Association Jan. 11, as well as at least a dozen other organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Minneapolis, the Center for Civic Participation and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Not surprisingly, the campaign also has the support of the Independence Party of Minnesota, the Green Party of Minnesota and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Progressive Caucus.
Widespread support doesn't ensure the question will be put to voters this fall. There are only three ways to get an amendment on the ballot: through a vote by the City Council or the Charter Commission, or through a petition drive in which the signatures of 5 percent of the number of voters who turned out in the last city election are collected and verified. In this case, it would require 10,000 signatures, Massey said. Before any group could begin circulating a petition, the Charter Commission must approve its wording.
The Charter Commission approved the petition submitted by the Better Ballot Campaign Jan. 4 on a 7-4 vote. Chair Jim Bernstein said he voted against the petition because the wording was not clear.
Although the Better Ballot Campaign likely would succeed in gathering the required number of signatures, organizers are hoping that widespread support of the proposal would prompt either a City Council or Charter Commission vote.
“Part of our strategy is to create a coalition of organizations who support the campaign,” Massey said.
But not everyone is convinced it is a better system. Bernstein said he doesn't support instant runoff voting because he thinks it's unfair.
“Oftentimes, people will want to choose one candidate and that's the candidate they want to win,” Bernstein said, adding that to participate in the instant runoff voting method, voters have to choose not who they want to win but how much they want each candidate to win.
Massey knows not everyone agrees instant runoff voting is a better system, but she said the campaign's greatest challenge is that many people simply don't know what it is. She's pleased with the amount of support the campaign has received and the number of meetings and events at which information was distributed.
“It's in full swing. Activities are exploding,” she said.