Why school board voting isn't ranked-choice, and why it should be

It can provide the difference between a negative and a constructive campaign once we pass legislation to allow it.

By Jeanne Massey l Star Tribune l October 27, 2014

On Saturday, a hit piece against school board candidate Rebecca Gagnon by the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund hit mailboxes across the city. Its sole purpose was to bash the candidate this organization is against, not to promote the candidates it favors.

This is a new low in the highly charged and exceedingly negative campaign in the race for Minneapolis school board, one that ostensibly is about how to best educate our citys kids for the 21st century. Its happening on both sides of what is (overly simplistically) described as a fight between the teachers union and reformers. The opposing sides want us to believe that unions (and the candidates viewed as aligned with their interests) are hopelessly stuck in the 18th century and that reformers (and their candidate advocates) would convert all public schools into private ones. Neither narrative is true, and framing the argument this way doesnt help our kids.

This campaign is injuring not only the reputations of hardworking, well-meaning candidates, but also any hope that well come out of this with a functioning school board able to work together for the future of our kids.

Contrast this race to last years open mayoral race, which was also about different views of how to lead Minneapolis forward without the vicious, ad hominem attacks.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) prevented the campaigns and their independent-expenditure friends from going down that path. They knew it would cost rather than win them votes. When candidates have to campaign for second- and third-choice votes, they reach beyond their base, refrain from bashing their opponents and stay focused on why voters should vote for them, not against the other candidates.

The school board race is in desperate need of civility-inducing incentives and voters want the option to rank their choices.

Im asked every day by Minneapolis voters why we cant use RCV for this school board race like we did in last years municipal elections. Its because school boards are governed by state law, not local charters, as Minneapolis city elections are. To use RCV for school board, well need to pass a local options bill that gives school districts, noncharter cities and counties the authority to adopt RCV if they wish.

Minneapolis voters are used to a better way of voting, and they like it. Its hard to return to the traditional way of campaigning (negatively) and voting (strategically). Under the current system, its advantageous to bullet vote that is, vote for just one candidate when you have the option to vote for two. Not so under RCV.

Were stuck this year, but lets work toward ensuring that we have RCV in place for the next school board election. The polarizing forces underlying this years race arent going away any time soon; RCV would foster a very different dialogue about and a more collaborative approach to solving our schools deepest problems.

Jeanne Massey is executive director of FairVote Minnesota.