October 20, 2006

[Editor's note: KARE 11's report on the proposal to use Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis elections starts off right, but steers off course with the city election administrator's highly inflated cost estimates. FairVote Minnesota has presented alternative implementation proposals which would minimize disruption and actually save money for the city. At the close, the news anchor says he's confused. However, 99 percent of San Francisco voters cast valid ballots with Instant Runoff Voting.]

KARE 11 TV http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=137312

Minneapolis residents to vote on instant run-off voting

Whether they realize it or not, voters in Minneapolis might revolutionize the way local democracy works on November 7.

A question on the city's ballot asks if they favor implementing so-called instant runoff elections.

If a majority answers 'yes', primary elections for some races will disappear in the future. In the general election, voters will rank candidates, and second-choice votes could decide the ultimate winner.

The system would let voters rank their choices for mayor, city council, the park board, and the finance board.

And that's a good thing, if you ask instant-runoff supporters.

"It'll be easier for voters who only turn out for one election," said Tony Solgard, president of the group Fair Vote Minnesota. "(And) easier for candidates who only have to campaign for one election."

Minnesota's Independence Party is among the supporters, saying instant runoff could help their candidates - and candidates from other third parties - be taken more seriously.

There's strong support within the DFL, as well.

One of the attractions of instant runoff voting, according to those who endorse the system, is that it could eliminate so-called "spoiler" candidates.

"Two similar candidates can divide a majority of the voters between them," Solgard explained. "And (that would) result in the election of another candidate who's actually opposed by most of the voters"

Voters would fill in ovals to designate their first choice, second choice, and so on. There could be a lot of ranking if a lot of candidates are running.

Here's how, in a simple race, it might work:

1. After the first round of ballot counting, no one among the top three candidates receives a clear majority of first-choice votes. Candidate 1 has 38 percent; Candidate 2 has 18 percent; Candidate 3 has 44 percent. In a traditional election, Candidate 3 would win with a plurality.

2. In an instant runoff, it's not over yet. Whoever has the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. In this example, it's Candidate 2.

3. In round two of the instant runoff, the second-choice votes on Candidate 2's ballots are divided among Candidates 1 and 3. In this example, the people who liked Candidate 2 preferred Candidate 1 by a margin of 5 to 1. That adds 15 percent to Candidate 1's total, and 3 percent to Candidate 3's total.

4. After the second-choice votes are tallied, Candidate 1 has 53 percent of the votes, and Candidate 3 has 47 percent.

5. Candidate 1 now has a majority and is declared the winner - even though Candidate 3 had more votes in the first round.

6. If there were more than three candidates, this process would repeat itself until someone won a majority.

Read more about this in Scott's blog

Confused? There's a graphic illustration of this in the video link above.
There's a potential for more confusion if there's a multiple-seat race, such as the library board, in which voters are asked to select six candidates.

"That begins to get a little more complex," said Cindy Reichert, the Minneapolis director of elections.

Reichert said complex mathematical formulas will need to be put into a computer.

And computers themselves present a potential problem - the city might have to purchase new ones that can scan this new form of ballot.

The city also would have to train people to judge and vote in instant runoff elections.

The costs add up.

Reichert said it would take at least $1 million to implement the system. And she said, in every subsequent year, instant runoff could cost more than old-fashioned elections do.

"Though we will save money in the primary (election), the cost we save in the primary is significantly offset by the cost of implementation," she said.

If voters pass this new system, it will be up to city council to decide exactly how instant runoff elections will be implemented.

The details have not been worked out yet.

Minneapolis would join small club of cities that use instant runoff elections. So far, San Francisco; Cambridge, Mass., and Burlington, Vt., are the only U.S. cities using this system.

Overseas, instant runoff voting is used in Ireland, Australia and London.

For more information about the pros, cons - and the cost (or if you're just really confused about how all of this works) - visit Scott's blog to find links to other Web sites.

By Scott Goldberg, KARE 11 News