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Dave Durenberger: How RCV could help take some of the money out of political campaigns

 
In the Minneapolis mayoral election, Betsy Hodges won in spite of being out-raised and out-spent by Mark Andrew.

As Benjamin Franklin famously noted in 1789, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

If the Founding Father were alive today, that saying might be more appropriate if it included death, taxes, and expensive political campaigns.

Its common knowledge today that political campaigns arent considered viable unless theyre able to raise and spend colossal amounts of money. In the 2012 presidential election, for example between campaigns, committees, and Super PACs both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney cracked more than $1 billion (yes, billion!) spent trying to get elected.

Sure, money talks, but I think we can all agree that money wields far too large an influence in American politics these days. Just imagine how much good could be done in the United States and around the world with that kind of money.

So what can we do about it? Ranked-choice voting (RCV) may provide a solution.  

With RCV, broad support is important

In a ranked-choice-voting election, winning the support of a broad group of voters not just your own partys base is crucially important. When candidates must earn voters second- and third-choice votes in order to win, they cant risk alienating anyone. This means candidates spend a lot more time at forums, community events and knocking on doors and much less time raising and spending money on crafting nasty attacks or slinging mud. Theres no faster way to turn off voters than to be the candidate whos smearing your opponents instead of talking about the real issues.

And for those of us in Minnesota, we need look no further than 2013s Minneapolis mayoral election. The candidate who raised and spent the most money by a significant margin didnt ultimately win. Minneapolis isnt the only place where the biggest spender lost under RCV, either: The same result happened in Aspen, Colo., in 2009; in Oakland and San Leandro, Calif., in 2010; and in Portland, Maine, in 2011.

Could encourage more moderate positions

Id even venture to suggest that, eventually, ranked-choice voting could encourage the major political parties to adopt more moderate positions reflective of the entire electorate, regardless of special interests or whoever is able to spend the most money. Extremism, like excessive spending, is squandering our political process.

When I really think about it, ranked-choice voting represents a return to some of the best things that used to be staples of American politicking: knocking on doors, actually talking to voters, and building coalitions. And, my personal favorite: real, live debates between the candidates on issues critical to all voters not just the polled issues with the televised seven-second answer. These arent foreign concepts or newfangled ideas. This is good, old-fashioned politics returning to its roots.

Will ranked-choice voting completely remove moneys influence from politics? No, probably not. But weve already seen RCV succeed in welcoming new voices to the political process, giving voters more choice and power in their elections, and discouraging negative campaigning and baseless attacks. Its not a perfect solution (truthfully, Id argue that such a solution simply doesnt exist), but it brings us closer to a stronger, fairer democracy that is accessible to all.

I support ranked-choice voting for many reasons and decreasing the influence of money in politics is just one of them. Its not going to be easy, but Im confident that if we roll up our sleeves and do the work necessary, we can bring politics back to the business of having conversations and finding consensus, and move away from absurd wasting of money.

As for the other pesky two things death and taxes well, admittedly, ranked-choice voting isnt the answer to everything. Benjamin Franklin was probably right about those two.

Dave Durenberger is a former US Senator from Minnesota.

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