St. Paul (March 20, 2020) — In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned but is serving on-call to address limited, critical agenda items and COVID-19 bills. FairVote Minnesota was heartened to see the Governor and legislature acting on a bipartisan basis to swiftly address the crisis and provide assistance to the most vulnerable among us. It is critical at times of crisis for citizens to see its leaders being guided by facts, putting aside differences of opinion, and working together on a bipartisan basis. This bipartisan cooperation is consistent with the very goals Ranked Choice Voting seeks to achieve and we thank the Governor and legislature for their swift action. FairVote Minnesota is working for a government, both state and local, that supports and represents all of its citizens in crisis and non-crisis situations alike.
Before the crisis, the bipartisan Ranked Choice Voting Local Options bill, (HF 983, SF 3380) had been reintroduced in the 2020 session by chief authors Representative Steve Elkins (DFL-Bloomington) and Senator Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), and was co-sponsored by a wide range of legislators from across Minnesota. Three committees in the House had already passed the bill, and it was poised to pass on the House floor.
The bill, which is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities, is a straight-forward, common sense measure that would give any city, school district, or county the option to use Ranked Choice Voting (“RCV”) if they so choose and provides a standard set of rules for implementation. Since the bill allows localities to opt in, it has no effect whatsoever on communities that prefer the status quo.
“In Minnesota, only 15% of our cities have the option to set their own rules for their local elections. The remaining 85% of cities, as well as all townships, all school districts, and all counties except Ramsey, would have to ask the Minnesota Legislature for permission to use Ranked Choice Voting for their elections,” said FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey. “This bill would give the majority of cities in Minnesota the same opportunity that home-rule cities already have – the chance to determine for themselves how they are best governed. This is a local control issue.”
“As the chief author of the bill in the Senate, I believe that communities should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves if Ranked Choice Voting is a method they want to try in local elections,” Senator Jensen stated. “This bill provides local choice, and I think that’s a good idea.”
Rep. Elkins, a former member of the Bloomington City Council and Metropolitan Council, sees RCV as a solution to several problems local jurisdictions are facing in local elections: Expensive and low turnout primaries, tactical voting, and lack of diversity of candidates. “Ranked Choice Voting makes elections more efficient for cities to administer and simpler for voters,” he explained. “Use of RCV in Minnesota cities and elsewhere has shown that it increases voter participation and gives voters more choice. If local jurisdictions believe that RCV would improve their elections, we should provide them with that opportunity. That’s what this bill does.”
Minneapolis, St. Paul, and most recently St. Louis Park have used Ranked Choice Voting with tremendous success. Other home-rule cities, including Bloomington and Minnetonka, are poised to adopt RCV this year by ballot measure or unanimous vote by the city council.
Other home-rule cities, like Red Wing and Rochester, are actively exploring RCV, but are held back due to restrictions in ballot design and other election laws which this bill would address.
Former bill author Steve Simon continues to champion the bill in his current role as Secretary of State. He described the local options measure as a “Goldilocks option — it’s just right. It’s a compromise that says not that any jurisdiction should have Ranked Choice Voting, but if they want to have it, they shouldn’t have to come on bended knee to ask the legislature to ask special permission.” He added, “if [a city] wants to experiment with RCV, they ought to do it.”
Congressman Dean Phillips has introduced complementary federal legislation, The Voter Choice Act, that would provide resources to communities and states to assist in the implementation of RCV if they choose to adopt it.
“The Voter Choice Act empowers cities like ours to do what we believe is best for our community,” noted Bloomington Councilmember Jenna Carter, who is working to bring RCV to her community. “I believe that RCV will make our local elections more inclusive and diverse which is important in a changing community like ours, and I’m grateful to Congressman Phillips and his colleagues for recognizing the importance of this reform and ensuring the support we need to implement this change.”
While the legislature has put on hold most policy bills for the remainder of this year due to the coronavirus, the movement for Ranked Choice Voting is growing and the Local Options bill is poised to pass next year. The bill authors were scheduled to hold a press conference on the bill this week to promote the bill and answer questions from the media, but it was canceled due to Covid-19. Please contact Jeanne Massey for information about the legislation or Ranked Choice Voting efforts in Minnesota.