Elections option might go to voters. Supporters weighing referendum effort on instant-runoff voting.

Posted on Thu, Dec. 07, 2006    

Pioneer Press

A month after voters approved instant-runoff voting in Minneapolis, supporters are mulling an effort to put the issue on the ballot in St. Paul.

Green Party activist Dori Ullman and a group of high school seniors from Mounds Park Academy met Wednesday with Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky and picked up a sample petition for a potential bid for a ballot measure.

They discussed an instant-runoff initiative for the 2007 election, which would require 4,760 signatures to go before voters Nov. 6. The city charter requires signatories equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the most recent mayoral election, which was 59,509 in 2005.

If adopted, instant runoff would likely boost the prospects of third-party candidates, since voters could rank them highly while still voting for a major-party contender.

Instant-runoff voting could make for one of the most profound political changes in the city in a generation, since the City Council adopted the ward system in 1983.

"I think that it's a great idea because it's just so frustrating to think that … the people that are elected aren't representing the people and that people elected in St. Paul are only representing what maybe 40 percent of the people want," said Libby Kantner, of St. Paul, who is one of the students from the private school in Maplewood working on the project.

The effort is part of a public policy class project led by Mounds Park Academy teacher Maureen Conway.

Ullman, a retired Ramsey County District Court clerk and one of the activists who successfully fought the Gopher State Ethanol plant on West Seventh Street, said the interest wasn't only at Mounds Park Academy. She said a 15-person St. Paul committee, inspired in part by the success of instant-runoff voting in Minneapolis, is working to adopt the system.

"Many of us have endorsed and worked on the Minneapolis campaign," said Ullman, who also managed the campaign of Green Party U.S. Senate contender Michael Cavlan.

"It interested me a lot," she said, "and I thought, 'If they can do it, we can do it.' "

She and the students, who met as a result of the Minneapolis campaign, were making the rounds Wednesday in St. Paul City Hall, probing support among council members for instant runoff. The council could adopt the system or put it on the ballot in 2007 independently, without a petition drive. They reported meeting with a mixed reaction.

Mansky said a petition would likely need well over 5,000 signatures to be successful: Only registered voters are eligible to sign, and some ineligible signatories are typically stricken from any petition drive. He said it would need to be submitted by the middle of July so that elections officials could assess the petition's validity and forward the documents to the City Council, which would make a final decision on the "sufficiency" of the petition effort.

Rules also allow only St. Paul residents to circulate the petitions. Just one of the five Mounds Park students in downtown St. Paul on Wednesday live in the city.

Levies and initiatives have mixed histories in St. Paul. Voters have turned down living-wage ordinances, ballpark taxes and billboard restrictions in recent years, but changed the term lengths of the City Council and approved three school levy measures. An effort to repeal the city's smoking ban was mounted but never submitted to elections officials.

City officials were lukewarm toward the idea.

"The mayor is intrigued by the idea and looks forward to a public conversation about it," said Bob Hume, spokesman for Mayor Chris Coleman.

Tim Nelson can be reached at or 651-292-1159.

What is it?

In instant-runoff voting, voters in races with more than one candidate rank the candidates by preference — first choice, second choice, third choice and so on. A candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes is declared the winner. Otherwise, the weakest candidate is eliminated and his or her votes are re-allocated to the voters' second choices. This re-allocation process continues until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

© 2006 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.





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