Donn Larson: The time has come for ranked-choice voting | Fair Vote Minnesota

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Donn Larson: The time has come for ranked-choice voting

Duluth News Tribune, March 18 2010

Advocates of an

interesting new way to hold an election might as well use the lingo of the film

industry, because the 2009 Best Picture award was chosen by 5,777 Academy of

Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members who ranked their choices from 1 to 10.

Duluths Ranked-Choice Voting Steering Committee welcomed the academys new

procedure. It added weight to a growing recognition of ranked-choice voting or

RCV, sometimes also known as instant-runoff voting, or IRV as a more fair and

efficient way of conducting elections.

By: Donn Larson, Duluth News Tribune

Advocates of an interesting new way to hold an election might as well use the

lingo of the film industry, because the 2009 Best Picture award was chosen by

5,777 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members who ranked their

choices from 1 to 10.

Since 1946 the academy ballot simply asked for the voters favorite among

five nominees. Check one box and send it in. This year there were 10

nominations, and the academy reintroduced preferential balloting. Details of

the run-off are not public, but we know The Hurt Locker was approved by at

least 51 percent of voting members.

Duluths Ranked-Choice Voting Steering Committee welcomed the academys new

procedure. It added weight to a growing recognition of ranked-choice voting or

RCV, sometimes also known as instant-runoff voting, or IRV as a more fair and

efficient way of conducting elections.

RCV gained another important boost last November when Minneapolis used it for

the first time with impressive ease. St. Paul also has adopted it for 2011, and

the system is growing in acceptance in many states and nations. Its been

working well in San Francisco since 2005 and several other U.S. cities since

then. It is widely used in Australia, Ireland, Canada and other democracies

around the world.

Minneapolis use of RCV was surveyed by St. Cloud State University. The

university found voters of all ages, incomes and ethnic groups understood the

system. Easy to use, said 95 percent of voters polled.

There would not be a need for RCV if we had only two candidates for an

office. In 1948, we picked Dewey or Truman; there was no Perot or Nader to spoil

a majority choice. Today in Minnesota we face decisions like

Coleman-Franken-Barkley, Ventura-Coleman-Humphrey,

Pawlenty-Moe-Penny or Pawlenty-Hatch-Hutchinson.

Minnesota once elected a governor with just 37 percent of the vote. The last

governor elected with the backing of a majority was Arne Carlson in 1994.

Would new machines be needed for RCV? Yes, when a normal replacement time

approaches, but the Minneapolis RCV election went smoothly without them. Since

this was Minneapolis first experience with the new process, ballots were

hand-counted. But new RCV-capable machines are expected for the next election in

2013. Duluth can take advantage of the availability of RCV machines when our

next upgrade is due.

With instant-runoff voting in a local, nonpartisan election, there is no

primary with its extra expense and limited turnout. On Election Day, voters rank

their preferences: first, second, third and so on. A candidate receiving 51

percent of the votes wins. If no one meets this majority threshold, the

candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and his or her votes are

divided among the remaining candidates. This process continues until someone

gets 51 percent. A similar progression takes care of elections where there are

multiple seats to fill, such as with Duluths at-large council balloting.

In a state partisan election, primaries are still needed to elect party

candidates for the general election. In these elections, RCV can be used in both

the primary and again in the general election to ensure winners with broad

majority support.

Ranked-choice voting gives all contenders a better opportunity to raise the

tone and substance of campaigns. It upholds the principle of majority rule,

giving voters a more satisfying role. It opens the way for new voices. It not

only reduces the cost of elections, but the cost of campaigning.

Duluth will need a charter amendment to adopt the new system. The steering

committee, led by Robert Wahman and Mary Evans, aims to have the question on

next Novembers ballot.

Donn Larson is a former Duluth city councilor and Charter Commission member;

he was co-publisher of The Will and the Way, a book recounting Duluths recent

history; and he is a member of the Duluth Ranked-Choice Voting Steering

Committee.

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