Instant runoff voting

makes strong run

A bill to allow

Roseville to try instant runoff voting passed the Senate but was defeated

in the House on largely party line votes. Though it did not become law,

the effort advanced farther than other political reform proposals and marks

progress for the movement for better voting methods in Minnesota.

The bill, known in both

bodies as Senate File 1613, proposed to give the City of Roseville

a one-time waiver from the state's "vote-for-one" ballot

format requirements. The Roseville City Council had asked for the waiver

and had prepared a draft ordinance to implement instant runoff voting

for a special election to fill an open city council seat.

The bill had bipartisan

support from Roseville's legislative delegation, including Senator

John Marty and Representatives Mindy Greiling and Carl Jacobson, as

well as from Representative Jim Rhodes, the chair of the House Government

Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The situation was complicated

by opposition from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, an anti-abortion

organization known for playing political hard ball. Their influence

held sway over several rural Democrats and Republicans, some of whom

had pledged support for the bill before hearing from the MCCL.

Republican leaders criticized

the proposal as likely to be confusing to voters and unconstitutional.

Political calculations may have entered into their decision as well,

as their candidates for statewide office have won recent elections

with less than a majority of the votes. Instant runoff voting assures

that the winner has the support of the majority.

While the vote

was disappointing in the short term, the overall progress made by the

proposal is encouraging, especially compared to the progress of other,

much better funded movements for campaign finance reform, initiative & referendum

and previous efforts for term limits and a unicameral legislature.

To view the roll-call votes

on SF 1613, click here.

Law change strengthens

case for home rule cities to use alternative voting methods

A minor provision

in a new law strengthens the case that home rule cities have the authority

to adopt alternative voting methods in their charters. Cities considering

instant runoff and proportional representation can proceed with confidence

that a decision to adopt an alternative voting method is supported in


The provision is part of

a larger law, Session Laws 2004 Chapter 293, on voter registration.

Section 37 amends Minnesota Statutes 205.185, subdivision 2, to read: "A

municipal election shall be by secret ballot and shall be held and

the returns made in the manner provided for the state general election," striking

the weaker wording, "so far as practicable," and inserting

in their place the stronger phrasing, "except as expressly provided

by law."

Some analysts read the old

language as requiring municipalities to conform to the statutes "vote

for one" instructions for state elections. However, the except-as-provided-by-law

qualifier is already found repeatedly in the ballot format statutes.

FairVote Minnesota has contended that the exceptions allow cities with

charters to exercise their broad home rule powers stated in Section

410 of the statutes and adopt alternative voting methods in their charters.

The new language should clear up any remaining doubts.

Election security concerns

lead to election result audits

Election security

concerns led lawmakers to create a new procedure to audit results after

each general election. During the 2000 Presidential election, the public

became aware of the problems with punch-card voting equipment, with their "hanging," "pregnant," and "dimpled" chads. When

the vulnerability of electronic voting equipment without a voter-verified

paper trail became known, there was a strong reaction that this "solution" put

election security at even greater risk.

Minnesota uses paper ballots

that are either hand-counted or are counted by an optical scanner.

While generally thought to be more secure than many of the other voting

equipment options, there is still software programming involved in

tabulating votes and reporting results.

Beginning in 2006, the audit

procedures are as follows:

  • A random sample of 80

    large and small precincts from each congressional district will be

    chosen for the audit.

  • A hand count must be

    conducted of all the votes cast for each of the offices on the ballot,

    whether originally counted by hand or by optical scanner.

  • If an optical scanner

    was used in the original count, a recount must be conducted using

    same equipment.

  • A report will be prepared

    comparing the audited results with the originally reported results.

  • If there is a discrepancy

    between the audited results and the original count by optical scanner

    greater than one-half of one percent in any of the contested elections

    on the ballot, the audit will be extended to at least ten percent

    of the tabulating equipment in the jurisdiction of the election for

    which the discrepancy was discovered.

  • If the extended audit

    reveals a discrepancy of greater than one-half of one percent, then

    a complete audit must be conducted for the election for which the

    discrepancy was discovered.

  • If the entire election

    is audited, the audited results must be used to determine the winner

    of the election.

  • If voting equipment fails

    to meet the standard of accuracy, the manufacturer of the equipment

    must seek to have the equipment recertified and is liable for penalties.

  • If the counting discrepancy

    was due to human error, the election judges and administrators for

    the county in which the audited precinct is located must attend a

    training session designed to eliminate the errors.

The new law is found in

Section 30 of Session Laws 2004 Chapter 293, the same law that clarified

home rule powers to adopt alternative voting methods. The plan was

originally introduced and championed by Representative Bill Hilty.

Ranked-, cumulative-compatible

voting equipment still in the air

The federal Help

America Vote Act requires changes in voting equipment accessibility and

authorizes millions of dollars for Minnesota to acquire new voting equipment.

During the legislative session, FairVote Minnesota recommended that new

voting equipment have the flexibility to process ranked and cumulative

ballots as well as the vote-for-one ballots commonly used today. Acquiring

compatible voting equipment now will keep our options open in the event

the state or a home rule city adopts a voting method with an alternative

ballot format sometime in the future.

The legislature did not

complete the appropriation process and compatible voting equipment

is not yet assured. The subject is likely to come up early in the next

session when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The Hopkins City Council

passed a resolution calling on the state to acquire voting equipment

that is compatible with alternative ballot formats. FairVote Minnesota

has received expressions of interest in passing similar resolutions

in other cities. Go to to

see the resolution passed by Hopkins. Contact FairVote Minnesota if

a similar resolution is being considered in your city.