Local view: Ranked-choice voting didnt cause City Councils appointment fiasco

The News Tribunes Feb. 14 Our View editorial, Lets try this again, council, made some sweeping generalizations about ranked-choice voting that deserve to be addressed.

By: Jane Gilley, Duluth News Tribune

The News Tribunes Feb. 14 Our View editorial, Lets try this again, council, made some sweeping generalizations about ranked-choice voting that deserve to be addressed.

First and foremost, the vote taken by the Duluth City Council to appoint Joel Sipress to the vacant 2nd District seat should not, under any circumstances, be considered ranked-choice voting. Thats because, although the council said it was using ranked-choice voting, it did not. Rather, the council used a ranked ballot to help break a tie between Sipress and Kathy Heltzer. This was not a ranked-choice voting election, as the rules for ranked-choice voting were not applied or correctly followed. Ranked-choice voting is not designed to be a tiebreaker. It makes no sense to blame as faulty a voting system that was used incorrectly.

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because ranked-choice voting is different, it must be confusing, unreliable, ineffective or worse. The truth, however, is quite the contrary. Ranked-choice voting works like this: First, voters cast their ballots, ranking their choices first, second, third and so forth. All first-choice votes are counted, and any candidate mathematically unable to win is eliminated. The first-choice votes those candidates received are then reallocated to the voters second choices.

In 2005, the Minnesota League of Women Voters completed a study of various election systems and adopted a position supporting the right of local governments and municipalities to choose ranked-choice (or instant-runoff) voting for their own local elections. It is used in some local elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

As a member of the League of Women Voters-Duluth, I served on the Ranked Choice Voting Task Force appointed by Duluth Mayor Don Ness in 2011. After thoroughly reviewing the system, we concluded that ranked-choice voting had the ability to improve elections in Duluth in many ways.

These include cost savings from an election without primaries. Instead of two costly elections, the whole process is compressed into one. That would save the city of Duluth and its taxpayers precious time and resources.

Also, ranked-choice voting accommodates a broad group of candidates, representing all political ideologies and opinions, who are welcomed as part of the conversation, allowing voters to have the chance to hear from more candidates about the issues that really matter to them.

Another plus is that candidates seeking your vote arent as likely to launch attack ads or negative campaigns against opponents; because if they cant win your first-choice vote, theyll be vying for your second- and third-choice votes.

With ranked-choice voting, when you go to cast your vote on Election Day, you can vote with both your head and your heart, confidently supporting candidates in your preferred order and knowing that if your first choice gets eliminated your vote will move on to count toward your second choice (and so on).

FairVote Minnesota, which promotes ranked-choice voting, believes it will help eliminate the disparity in turnout between municipal primary and general elections, which has been steadily falling over the past decade. In the past two municipal cycles, primary turnout was approximately a third of general-election turnout. Ranked-choice voting brings together the most voters with the most choice in a single decisive election.

Duluth may choose to have a conversation about ranked-choice voting. If so, I want it to be an open and honest conversation. Such a serious conversation deserves a better start than citizens being misled by false assumptions or conclusions.

Jane Gilley of Duluth has served as an election judge and was co- chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota study, Alternative Voting Systems: Facts and Issues.