News

Hopkins to hold public hearing on instant runoff voting next week

BY MARC INGBER - SUN NEWSPAPERS
(Created: Thursday, January 12, 2006 1:08 PM CST)
http://www.mnsun.com/articles/2006/01/12/news/ho12voting.txt

For those Hopkins residents who had trouble picking only one candidate in November's City Council elections, a possible new voting system might make that problem obsolete in future elections.

In its continuing exploration of an alternative voting system, the Hopkins City Council will hold a public hearing during its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, to discuss instant runoff voting (IRV). The hearing will be an opportunity for proponents of the new system, as well as proponents of the current one-vote-per-ballot voting system, to voice their questions and concerns before the council.

With the IRV system, voters rank the candidates on the ballot. If the candidate who received the highest number of No. 1 votes does not have more than 50 percent of the No. 1 votes, then the No. 2 votes are counted. This process is repeated until the winner has more than 50 percent of the votes.

Proponents of IRV say the system is beneficial because it assures elected candidates receive the majority of the votes, and it curbs negative campaigning because candidates will also be looking for votes from non-supporters.

The city has been exploring the IRV system for more than one year. Under the recommendation of the city's charter commission, the council established an alternative voting task force in August 2004 to research the system.

The council approved an ordinance at its Dec. 20 meeting to use the IRV system and set the public hearing. However, in order to implement the IRV system, the council must vote unanimously to pass it within one month of the public hearing. If IRV is approved for Hopkins, it would not affect voting for the Hopkins School District because the district's elections are controlled by the state.

At the Dec. 20 meeting, Jim Genellie, the Hopkins assistant city manager, said the city's current voting machines are not able to tabulate IRV, so the machines would either have to be reprogrammed or the city would have to get new machines if the IRV system is approved. This could be a considerable cost, he said, but if other surrounding cities switch to IRV also, Hopkins might be able to share equipment costs.

He said Minneapolis is also exploring the possibility of IRV, and if it switches, the dynamic would change considerably for other cities in the metro area that are considering it.

"This method of voting is being used in the United States," he said. "It is not insurmountable."

Counting all the ranked votes might sound cumbersome, Genellie said, but when done by a computer, is simple.

At the meeting, then-Councilmember Rick Brausen also dismissed the system's critics who say it is too confusing.

"It's only confusing to those who don't want to learn about it," he said. "It's really not that difficult."

However, it will be up to the city's current council - Mayor Gene Maxwell, Jay Thompson, and new members Kristi Halverson and Cheryl Youakim - to amend the city's charter to use the IRV system.

If the council does approve the amendment to the charter, the IRV system could be in place as early as the 2007 municipal election.

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