Instant runoff voting
makes strong run
A bill to allow
Roseville to try instant runoff voting passed the Senate but was defeated
in the House on largely party line votes. Though it did not become law,
the effort advanced farther than other political reform proposals and marks
progress for the movement for better voting methods in Minnesota.
The bill, known in both
bodies as Senate File 1613, proposed to give the City of Roseville
a one-time waiver from the state's "vote-for-one" ballot
format requirements. The Roseville City Council had asked for the waiver
and had prepared a draft ordinance to implement instant runoff voting
for a special election to fill an open city council seat.
The bill had bipartisan
support from Roseville's legislative delegation, including Senator
John Marty and Representatives Mindy Greiling and Carl Jacobson, as
well as from Representative Jim Rhodes, the chair of the House Government
Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee.
The situation was complicated
by opposition from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, an anti-abortion
organization known for playing political hard ball. Their influence
held sway over several rural Democrats and Republicans, some of whom
had pledged support for the bill before hearing from the MCCL.
Republican leaders criticized
the proposal as likely to be confusing to voters and unconstitutional.
Political calculations may have entered into their decision as well,
as their candidates for statewide office have won recent elections
with less than a majority of the votes. Instant runoff voting assures
that the winner has the support of the majority.
While the vote
was disappointing in the short term, the overall progress made by the
proposal is encouraging, especially compared to the progress of other,
much better funded movements for campaign finance reform, initiative & referendum
and previous efforts for term limits and a unicameral legislature.
To view the roll-call votes
on SF 1613, click here.
Law change strengthens
case for home rule cities to use alternative voting methods
A minor provision
in a new law strengthens the case that home rule cities have the authority
to adopt alternative voting methods in their charters. Cities considering
instant runoff and proportional representation can proceed with confidence
that a decision to adopt an alternative voting method is supported in
The provision is part of
a larger law, Session Laws 2004 Chapter 293, on voter registration.
Section 37 amends Minnesota Statutes 205.185, subdivision 2, to read: "A
municipal election shall be by secret ballot and shall be held and
the returns made in the manner provided for the state general election," striking
the weaker wording, "so far as practicable," and inserting
in their place the stronger phrasing, "except as expressly provided
Some analysts read the old
language as requiring municipalities to conform to the statutes "vote
for one" instructions for state elections. However, the except-as-provided-by-law
qualifier is already found repeatedly in the ballot format statutes.
FairVote Minnesota has contended that the exceptions allow cities with
charters to exercise their broad home rule powers stated in Section
410 of the statutes and adopt alternative voting methods in their charters.
The new language should clear up any remaining doubts.
Election security concerns
lead to election result audits
concerns led lawmakers to create a new procedure to audit results after
each general election. During the 2000 Presidential election, the public
became aware of the problems with punch-card voting equipment, with their "hanging," "pregnant," and "dimpled" chads. When
the vulnerability of electronic voting equipment without a voter-verified
paper trail became known, there was a strong reaction that this "solution" put
election security at even greater risk.
Minnesota uses paper ballots
that are either hand-counted or are counted by an optical scanner.
While generally thought to be more secure than many of the other voting
equipment options, there is still software programming involved in
tabulating votes and reporting results.
Beginning in 2006, the audit
procedures are as follows:
- A random sample of 80
large and small precincts from each congressional district will be
chosen for the audit.
- A hand count must be
conducted of all the votes cast for each of the offices on the ballot,
whether originally counted by hand or by optical scanner.
- If an optical scanner
was used in the original count, a recount must be conducted using
- A report will be prepared
comparing the audited results with the originally reported results.
- If there is a discrepancy
between the audited results and the original count by optical scanner
greater than one-half of one percent in any of the contested elections
on the ballot, the audit will be extended to at least ten percent
of the tabulating equipment in the jurisdiction of the election for
which the discrepancy was discovered.
- If the extended audit
reveals a discrepancy of greater than one-half of one percent, then
a complete audit must be conducted for the election for which the
discrepancy was discovered.
- If the entire election
is audited, the audited results must be used to determine the winner
of the election.
- If voting equipment fails
to meet the standard of accuracy, the manufacturer of the equipment
must seek to have the equipment recertified and is liable for penalties.
- If the counting discrepancy
was due to human error, the election judges and administrators for
the county in which the audited precinct is located must attend a
training session designed to eliminate the errors.
The new law is found in
Section 30 of Session Laws 2004 Chapter 293, the same law that clarified
home rule powers to adopt alternative voting methods. The plan was
originally introduced and championed by Representative Bill Hilty.
voting equipment still in the air
The federal Help
America Vote Act requires changes in voting equipment accessibility and
authorizes millions of dollars for Minnesota to acquire new voting equipment.
During the legislative session, FairVote Minnesota recommended that new
voting equipment have the flexibility to process ranked and cumulative
ballots as well as the vote-for-one ballots commonly used today. Acquiring
compatible voting equipment now will keep our options open in the event
the state or a home rule city adopts a voting method with an alternative
ballot format sometime in the future.
The legislature did not
complete the appropriation process and compatible voting equipment
is not yet assured. The subject is likely to come up early in the next
session when the legislature reconvenes in January.
The Hopkins City Council
passed a resolution calling on the state to acquire voting equipment
that is compatible with alternative ballot formats. FairVote Minnesota
has received expressions of interest in passing similar resolutions
in other cities. Go to http://www.fairvotemn.org/articles/HopkinsResolutionElections.jpg to
see the resolution passed by Hopkins. Contact FairVote Minnesota if
a similar resolution is being considered in your city.