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A Better Ballot for Saint Paul

February 16, 2007
By Gena Berglund

Sometime in the next few monthssooner, if you go to your caucus on March 6someone may approach you to sign a petition to change Saint Paul city elections for the better.

This effort to put an Instant Runoff Voting question on the ballot in November will let voters decide whether to eliminate the low-turnout September primary for mayor and city council AND the so-called wasted vote problem.

On a better ballot you vote once in November. On that ballot, you rank candidates in order of preference.

A candidate for mayor or City Council who gets a majority of first-choice votes wins. However, if nobody tops 50 percent, there is an instant runoff using the same ballot. The candidate with the fewest first choices is dropped, and those ballots second-choices are counted. The run-off process continues until there is a majority winner.If your first choice doesnt win, your vote always goes to your preferred remaining candidate.

A Better Ballot leads to Better Choice. The current way we do citywide electionsa primary followed by a general electionisnt as fair. Primary voters are only 12 to 15 percent of registered voters. These voters are far fewer than those who participate in the November general election. A small voter pool shouldnt weed out candidates who could win in the higher-turnout election.

A Better Ballot leads to Better Representation. A single election in November allows the most voters to choose among the most candidates. Supporters of the losing primary candidates wont be tempted to stay home.

A Better Ballot leads to Better Campaigns. Campaignsare more informative with a Better Ballot by encouragingthem to be more positive and issue-focused. Candidates will always workto be your second or third choice, even if theyre not your first choice. Candidates risk your vote if they attack other candidates you like.

Candidates tell us that in Instant Runoff Voting, they dont need to raise as much money they only have to fundraise for one election, not two. This makes campaigning more viable for candidates with fewer resources to spend.

A Better Ballot leads to Better Participation. This system is not unproven. Its used in San Francisco, CA; Burlington, VT; and Tacoma Park, MD. Everywhere the Better Ballot is used, voter participationgoes up.The move is on to bring the Better Ballot to Minnesota. Minneapolis will be implementing the new Instant Runoff Voting System that voters approved in 2006 by a two-to-one margin. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has commissioned a task force to study Instant Runoff Voting and to prepare legislation that would support Instant Runoff Voting statewide. Cities across Minnesota are considering the Better Ballot for city elections.

Ramsey County Commissioners passed a resolution that stated, "The County Board views Instant Runoff Voting as a mechanism that can be used to ensure citizens the right to have their votes counted." Commissioners voting in favor of the resolution were Toni Carter, Jim McDonough, Rafael Ortega, Victoria Reinhardt, Janice Rettman, and Jan Wiessner. (Tony Bennett was
absent.)

Saint Paul has a chance to send a strong message to the state and nation. In races for president and governor, there have been several sub-50-percent (plurality) winners who often win only because two candidates split the majority voting bloc. That would never happen in a Better Ballot system. With Instant Runoff Voting, wed never see the Nader versus Gore, Bush versus Perot, or Hutchinson versus Hatchproblem again.

The Better Ballot is good government, which is one reason the Better Ballot Campaign is endorsed not only by the Green and Independence Parties,but also by DFL elected officials such as CouncilmemberJay Benanav, former Mayor Jim Scheibel, and State Legislators Ellen Anderson, Sandy Pappas and Carlos Mariani, among many others. The League of Women Voters encourages Saint Paul voters of all parties to support Better Ballot resolutions at the March 6
caucuses.

Please introduce a resolution at your precinct caucus on March 6. If you are caucusing with the Green Party contact Troy at 651-776-4874. If you are caucusing with the DFL contact Paul at 651-646-4656. If you are caucusing with the Independence Party or the Republican party contact Gena at 651-208-7964.

So sign the petition. Better yet circulate a petition yourself. You can find petitions and more here.

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