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Tim Penny in Duluth News Tribune: Ranked-choice would avoid our current electoral mess

May 18, 2016

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker got a lot right in her commentary published in the May 15 News Tribune, After Trump, the GOP may need a better voting system. No question our deeply flawed plurality system is partly to blame for producing a presumptive nominee so widely detested, even in his own party.

Trumps in a class by himself when it comes to polarizing voters, but the process doesnt seem to be resulting in a broadly appealing Democratic candidate, either. According to the analysts at FiveThirtyEight, both parties likely presidential nominees, despite each having a base of emphatic support, are more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 election cycles.

Theres a system that would yield winners with much broader support. Consensus winners. But its not approval voting; its ranked-choice voting. Unlike approval voting, ranked-choice voting is road-tested. It has been used successfully in cities from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley in California to Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to cast ballots for favorite candidates without fear of wasting a vote or helping candidates they like least. It rewards candidates who represent a broad majority instead of those who pander to a zealous base. Voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul have found that it heightens voter engagement, promotes greater choice, fosters more civil and substantive campaigning, and results in leadership thats more representative of the community.

Plus, at a time when fewer voters are identifying as Republicans (26 percent) or Democrats (29 percent), ranked-choice voting promotes political diversity, opening the system to independent and third-party candidates. Under ranked-choice voting, qualified, commonsense candidates outside the two-party system actually could win.

Parker was correct: Were not stuck with the dysfunctional system that has gotten us where we are today. Theres a better way. But its not approval voting; its ranked-choice voting.

Tim Penny

Owatonna, Minn.

The writer is a former Congressman and current president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

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