“I’m supporting John for the election because he door-knocked for me when I ran for my seat.”
“We should all back Kris for this election because she’s so well connected with all the right politicians.”
“I’m endorsing Jane because she led the fundraising for my campaign.”
Reasons such as these are often given by a politician to support a candidate for an elected office. It happens in elected leadership at every level, from city councils and school boards to the U.S. Senate, and has happened this way for centuries.
We all want to help those who have helped us. The support of friends and colleagues is highly valued, sometimes critically so, in many parts of our lives. The support of those already elected can be particularly validating, even comforting, during political campaigns, which are often personally taxing. And, because new candidates are often unfamiliar with the inner workings of government, advice from seasoned officeholders can get a candidate up to speed quickly and efficiently.
But does this buddy system within our current election method produce a field of candidates that best represents the diversity of constituents?
Ranked-choice voting provides the electorate with a more diverse pool of candidates because the process dilutes the influence of those already elected and in power. Being able to make a first, second and third choice means that voters no longer need to choose between two candidates deemed viable by those in power. People needn’t feel they are “wasting a vote” on a candidate who isn’t part of the inner circle of politicians who have money, connections and name recognition.
Ranked-choice voting in St. Paul and Minneapolis, in addition to many communities across the nation, has produced a more equitable field of candidates, and those candidates are winning. For example, after ranked-choice voting was enacted in Minneapolis, it produced the city’s first Latina, Hmong and Somali council members.
It’s not lost on me that as a St. Louis Park City Council member, I am white, straight, middle-class, middle-aged and male. My profile is that of most people in political power for generations. Thus, it’s my responsibility to consider the perspectives of those I represent who differ from me in skin color, age, economic circumstance, gender, sexual orientation, background and more.
Our St. Louis Park City Council is moving forward with ranked-choice voting. The support among our residents is overwhelmingly positive and, among those residents who’ve contacted me, unanimously favorable. By our city charter, the charter commission needs to propose ranked-choice voting back to the city council for a vote. The alternative is a costly and drawn-out ballot question that may delay the change to ranked-choice voting. We recently took the progressive step of eliminating municipal primaries, which was positively supported by residents, without a ballot question.
I urge the charter commission to finish its work quickly. Doing so would make it more likely that ranked-choice voting would be in place in 2019 when three council seats, including mine, will be on the ballot. I may or may not be re-elected, but the process will undoubtedly be more fair, diverse and representative.
Thom Miller is an at-large St. Louis Park City Council member.