Authored on May 17, 2019

Opinion editor's note: This commentary was signed by multiple Minnesota business leaders. They are listed below.

We are writing to urge the Minnesota Legislature to support the Ranked-Choice Voting Local Options bill that is advancing at the Capitol this session. The bill would grant to statutory jurisdictions (cities, townships, school districts and counties) the same authority home-rule cities currently have to adopt ranked-choice voting if they wish.

Minnesota is home to a robust and diverse group of employers, large and small, including 19 Fortune 500 companies. While our firms vary in size, we share one thing: the need for stability and predictability in our economic and political environment. Our planning horizons tend to be longer term and so we require certainty in order to make investments and deliver the growth our shareholders and owners expect.

As business leaders, we view the growing political polarization in our state and nation with alarm because it impedes the kind of genuine, hammered-out bipartisan legislation that drives business certainty. We see both sides veering toward extremes — and an electoral system that encourages this dynamic. Harvard Business School Prof. Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl, former CEO of Gehl Foods, describe this problem well in their study of the impact of political dysfunction on the health of our economy.

The business community in Minnesota has significant challenges that we must address to ensure the longer-term prosperity of our state — health care, education, infrastructure, immigration, taxes, community safety, to name a few. These issues are of critical importance to us because they support our state's ability to conduct business and attract and retain employees in our hometowns. They are also important to businesses looking to expand or relocate to our state.

We need our elected officials to work together in good faith to address these issues with bipartisan legislation that can stand the test of time. Our business community depends on it.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple, common sense way to encourage political candidates to appeal to a broader swath of their constituency. Under RCV, voters rank their preferences — 1, 2, 3, etc. If no candidate wins a majority of first choices, then another round of counting occurs. The least favorite candidate is eliminated and the votes cast for that candidate are reassigned to the remaining candidates based on the second choices on those ballots. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of continuing ballots.

It works like a runoff but in a single, cost-effective election.

When candidates must appeal to voters for second choices and seek the votes of more people in their district, it changes the tone and tenor of political campaigns, focusing them more on the issues and less on attacking opponents. It also drives greater engagement and turnout from voters who have become disillusioned with the current political system.

RCV is not a new, confusing or radical practice. It has been in use for more than 100 years and is used around the world in democracies such as Australia, Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand. In the United States, it's used or is pending use in nearly 20 jurisdictions including the state of Maine and cities like Santa Fe, Memphis, among others.

We have watched the use of ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park and concluded that it has been successful, efficient and effective. Studies show that voters find RCV simple to use and they prefer it over the current plurality system. Elections are more competitive, voter turnout is higher, campaigns are more civil and winning candidates take office with a majority of voter support. In local nonpartisan elections, which this bill refers to, RCV eliminates the need for separate primary elections, saving taxpayers and candidates the cost of an election.

The RCV Local Options Bill (HF 983, SF 2424), which is now part of the State Government Finance Omnibus Bill (HF 2227), is a simple first step toward this better approach. It gives all Minnesota communities the ability to explore and decide for themselves if this system is right for them. Local control is a core principle in our state. We urge the Legislature to adopt this bill and allow Minnesota communities to choose this electoral reform if they see fit.

 

Submitted on behalf of Penny Wheeler, Marc Gorelick, Bill and Penny George, Karla Ekdahl and Peter Hutchinson, Jay and Page Cowles, Kelly Doran, Wendy Nelson, Kim Nelson, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Ken Powell and Wendy Bennett, Mike and Elizabeth Sweeney, and Jim Leslie.