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Don Fraser: Citizens, 'instant runoff' is a better way to vote

And Minneapolis this fall shouldn't miss the chance to approve it for city elections

 

By: Don Fraser, September 23, 2006

 

On Nov. 7, Minneapolis voters will decide whether or not to adopt a new voting method for city elections. I urge voters to vote "yes" for "instant runoff voting" because it will produce better election results.

Our current voting method -- known variously as "plurality,"first-past-the-post" and "winner-take-all" -- is satisfactory so long as only two candidates are running for a single office. But many elections involve more than two candidates for an office.

Since 1998 in most statewide partisan elections the winner received less than a majority of votes because more than two candidates were seeking the office.

Minnesotans clearly enjoy having these choices on the ballot, based on what they tell public opinion pollsters. That argues for a voting system that winnows out the votes for less-favored candidates and allows the candidate with the most support to win the election. That's what instant runoff voting does. It allows the voter to rank the candidates in order of preference -- first choice, second choice, and so on. The votes cast for the least-popular candidates are not wasted -- they are redistributed among the more popular candidates based on voters' second or third choices. The candidate who ends up with a majority of the votes wins.

For city elections the general election is not the problem, because at that point only two candidates are on the ballot for each office. But in the primary election a larger field of candidates must be reduced to only two. Using the instant runoff voting produces the choices with the most support, and will permit Minneapolis voters to choose our mayor and council members by majority votes. Instead of requiring two elections (the primary and the general election), with instant runoff voting all the candidates could be presented to the voters in one election -- and the candidate who received the highest number of votes would win.

What about elections to boards where more than one candidate is to be elected? In Minneapolis we have the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Park and Recreation Board, and the Library Board that have multiple members. The current system permits less than a majority -- say, 40 percent of voters -- to win 100 percent of seats. That's not democratic and it can create a hostile, win-lose political environment. Instant runoff voting leads to an election result that more clearly reflects the opinions of all the voters.

A city that has adopted instant runoff voting is San Francisco, where one of my daughters lives. She said the idea produced very little controversy when it was on the ballot, it was easily adopted, and has been used in the last few years with no problems.

Instant runoff voting will not solve all our problems. But it will be a step toward ensuring that elections fairly reflect public sentiment. And if it produces the voter satisfaction that I believe it will, then perhaps the Legislature will look at it favorably and permit its use in statewide elections.

 

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