News

Brown, Cummins: Maximizing participation before and on Election Day

By Ellen Brown and Carl "Buzz" Cummins / Pioneer Press / 01/20/2015
 
This November, St. Paul is poised to make history -- again.

Back in 2009, voters here approved the use of ranked voting, ushering in a new era of municipal elections here in the Capital City. Since then, ranked voting has been put to the test on both sides of the Mississippi, in the 2011 council elections in St. Paul and in Minneapolis' open mayoral contest in 2013 -- proving its ability to dramatically reduce negative "attack" campaigning in favor of positive, substantive, issue-based conversations.

Now, we're preparing for November's St. Paul City Council elections, with multiple-candidate competitive races (so far) in Wards 2 and 7, and potentially more once the caucus season kicks into high gear. These wards are shaping up to be exciting contests with the potential to engage voters new and old, across all demographics of our increasingly diverse city. Ranked voting can only help maximize participation before and on Election Day ... and yield consensus outcomes when the polls close.

By ensuring candidates aren't prematurely eliminated by a costly, separate, low-turnout primary election -- whose results are never reflective of the whole community -- ranked voting welcomes more citizens into the political dialogue, giving them more choice and more power in selecting their leaders.

And it elevates that dialogue, fostering civility and inclusivity by encouraging candidates -- who often need second-choice votes to win -- to focus on coalition- building and reaching out beyond their political "base.

That leads to better, more accountable government: Those who ultimately prevail know they're beholden not just to a narrow subset of voters, but to the electorate as a whole.

We got a taste of things to come in the 2013 St. Paul Ward 1 City Council race. Instead of demonizing their opponents, candidates campaigned on their positive visions for St. Paul's future. With the competitive race, turnout was high by historical standards, and more than 70 percent of voters reported that ranked voting was easy to use.

A solid majority (62 percent) of voters said they want to continue using ranked voting -- and nearly three- quarters reported finding the election very civil overall. It was a refreshing change from the mudslinging that so often dominates American politics. The story was the same, on a larger scale, in Minneapolis that year, with majorities in every demographic ranking their ballots in the open mayoral race -- and finding it simple and satisfying to do so.

No wonder more and more cities across Minnesota, from Duluth to Red Wing to Brooklyn Park, are exploring this smarter, fairer, more representative voting system for their own municipal elections. Passage of the ranked voting "local options" bill this spring will make it simpler for them to do so -- and will show that the Legislature supports and encourages political innovation by forward-thinking cities like ours.

Our organization, FairVote Minnesota, will be working hard as ever between now and November to help voters and candidates make the most of ranked voting and its many benefits. We're proud to be part of two communities -- the voting reform movement, and the city of St. Paul -- where people don't just talk about making positive change and improving our democracy. We step up and do it.

Ellen Brown of St. Paul and Carl "Buzz" Cummins of Mendota Heights serve on the FairVote Minnesota board.

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