George & Sally Pillsbury: Ranked-choice voting would benefit all parties and all Minnesota voters

MinnPost, March 17, 2010

Last month, Eric Black put forth the proposition that

ranked-choice voting (also known as instant-runoff voting) "would help two

of Minnesota's

three parties." As card-carrying, "big tent" members of that

third party, the Republicans, permit us to make the case that ranked-choice

voting (RCV) will actually benefit all parties and all Minnesota voters.

First, though, a little background. Without much fanfare,

over the last two decades our state has slipped into the habit of electing

plurality winners to office. Only in 1996 and 2006 did we send our U.S. senators to Washington with support from a majority of

the state's voters. Our last governor elected by a majority was Arne Carlson in


Some may think little of this phenomenon, but the truth

is that minority status puts a hobble on our elected officials at a time when

we have a profound need for leaders who can lengthen their stride enough to

step across partisan lines. Far better for them and for us that our

officeholders serve with the benefit of knowing that they were elected with the

support of a majority of voters.

Ranked-choice voting can do that.  Under RCV, voters choose the candidate they

prefer as they would on a traditional ballot but also designate a second

choice and additional choices if they wish. If a candidate receives a majority

of votes in the first counting, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with

the least number of votes is eliminated and his or her ballots are divided

among the remaining candidates based on voters' second choices. If there's

still no majority winner, the process repeats until one candidate gains a

majority of support.

Like a traditional runoff, but simpler

Simply, ranked-choice voting is like a traditional runoff

but conducted in a single election, making the process far simpler and more

cost effective than holding a second election to achieve the same purpose.

Ranked-choice voting benefits all parties and voters: It

negates the rationale for "tactical" voting, it increases

participation, and better reflects the diversity of our state. RCV provides

voters greater candidate choice, expands the range of debate and discourages

the worst tendencies of today's attack politics. Any one of these advantages

could be the subject of its own discussion, but since Black's analysis looked

instead at the question of political benefit, it's here where we'll focus the

balance of our attention.

Black endorsed the conventional wisdom that RCV would

favor independent candidates first and Democratic candidates second, basing

this belief on the lopsided support for RCV by Independents and Democrats in Minnesota.  There's a circularity to that logic it must

be true because nearly everyone thinks it must be true that is somewhat less

than persuasive to us.

Instead, we subscribe to the notion that Minnesota is a middle-of-the-road state, a view supported

by a recent Gallup

poll, in which 37 percent of Minnesotans surveyed called themselves

"moderates," an equal share "conservative," while 22

percent called themselves "liberal."

GOP, Democrats have moved away from centrism

It appears to us that both the Republican and Democratic

parties have moved away from our state's inherent centrism and are no longer

willing or able to appeal to a majority of voters.  Independent candidates have attempted to step

into this vacuum, and some have captured enough votes to split the electorate

enough to produce minority electoral outcomes.

As moderates, we are troubled by this trend and by a

voting system that encourages extremism on both sides of the political aisle.

We believe it is in the long-term political interests of both Republicans and

Democrats that we adopt measures that counter those tendencies toward

extremism. Ranked-choice voting provides this balance. Under an RCV system,

candidates win by appealing not only to their political base but by reaching

beyond the base as well. A candidate behaves differently when he or she knows

that being someone's second choice is a tangible benefit.

Promoters of the conventional wisdom will point to

Minnesota's lopsided party identification numbers our electorate identifies

itself as more Democratic than Republican by a sizable margin as an

indication that such a system will benefit the Democrats more than the

Republicans, but as Black noted in passing nobody really knows for sure

that this is the case.  They also will

probably fail to note that party identification has never been weaker in modern

times than it is today. What today's voters really care about are proposals and

programs that work, about solutions that actually fix problems

RCV discourages attack politics

RCV discourages the kind of attack politics we've seen

over the last several elections and instead promotes campaigning based on ideas

and positions. It is a benefit to candidates of any political stripe with ideas

and proposals and who want the interests and preferences of their community to

be reflected at the ballot box. Let the parties put their ideas forward, let

them stand in the light of an issue-oriented electoral process and be judged by

the voters.

Ranked-choice voting is a tested and successful system

used in cities across America

and in democracies around the world, including Ireland,

Northern Ireland and Australia. It

had a successful rollout last year in Minneapolis

and is on track for implementation in St.

Paul. It's time to take this idea to the state level

for consideration and we hope adoption. 

Such a development would be good for all parties and citizens regardless

of their political leanings.

George Pillsbury is a former state senator (1971-82).

The Pillsburys have been active for many years in the Republican Party and

civic life in Minnesota.





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