July 22, 2006

Friday's meeting of the Minneapolis City Council Elections Committee heard another broadside against Instant Runoff Voting. But reform opponents on the council held off on their plan to strip multi-winner elections from the charter amendment. It now appears they will attempt to get the charter commission to propose that at its August 2 meeting.

City Clerk Merry Keefe opened the staff presentation by saying they would not try to change any votes on the council, but rather would provide information to support implementation of Instant Runoff Voting. She said the staff was committed to efficient use of taxpayers' dollars, security of the voting system, and minimizing risk of legal challenge.

Elections Director Cindy Reichert then took over the podium with remarks to the effect that the proposed charter amendment would not support any of Keefe's principles. Reichert said Minneapolis would be without protection of state election laws and in danger of being sued if the new voting method was not implemented. She offered two scenarios for acquiring equipment to process ranked ballots, both with inhibiting price tags.

Reichert continued with a swipe at the claim that Instant Runoff Voting increases voter turnout. She suggested the same candidates would be elected with or without Instant Runoff Voting, her tacit point being, "Why bother?" She said the public has expressed concerns about using Instant Runoff Voting for multiple seat offices and that the term "Instant Runoff Voting" falsely implies that results will be instant.

Council President Barb Johnson asked how she could propose to remove the independent boards from the charter amendment. Reichert responded that this would be best accomplished by the charter commission offering a substitute proposal at its August 2 meeting which the council could consider.

After the presentation and with tongue-in-cheek, Better Ballot Campaign organizing committee member Tina Wade commented to those around her, "Imagine what the presentation would have been like if they were trying to change council members' votes!"

The comment period for all other speakers was limited to two minutes per person, including the spokesperson for the Better Ballot Campaign. With insufficient time to fully rebut the staff report, FairVote Minnesota President Tony Solgard described another, less costly scenario for handling equipment and vote-counting issues that had recently been approved by North Carolina's elections director for an Instant Runoff Voting proposal being considered there. He also referenced correspondence sent to the City Council from a long-time election administrator in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that said the city was able to report proportional representation election results in a matter of minutes.

Much of Reichert's presentation was a rehash of her May 24 presentation. Solgard's rebuttal to the earlier report is available at http://www.betterballotcampaign.org/sites/fairvotemn.org/files/Solgard_memo_to_Benson.doc.

Northeast Minneapolis resident Jason Goray spoke about the importance of keeping the multiple seat offices as part of the proposal. Describing himself as a Green-Libertarian, he said proportional representation would finally give him a voice. Park and Recreation Board member Bob Fine expressed his concerns about the number of candidates that would be on the November ballot without a primary election to reduce the field.

What's next

The Charter Commission meets on August 2nd at 4:00 pm. It will have another opportunity to review the Instant Runoff Voting charter amendment given the need to make a minor correction in the amendment.  It can accept the amendment as is, modify it or reject it, as it did in June.

As suggested by the exchange between Johnson and Reichert, opponents may try to offer a new version of the amendment that does not include the independent boards, in order to put a neutered alternative before the council. The Better Ballot Campaign is opposed to removing independent boards from the charter amendment.

The charter commission's review is a required step in the process. However, its actions are not binding on the council, which may take a substitute proposed by the charter commission or continue with its original version of the amendment. The City Council is scheduled to meet on August 4th to take up the matter and approve ballot language.