Kelly O'Brien tells us why

Minnesota Women's Press
Thursday, October 19, 2006

OnYourMind: Why Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is good for you

On Nov. 7, voters in Minneapolis will have a unique opportunity to ensure better representation by and for women and minorities in future city elections. A proposal to use instant runoff voting for electing city officers is on the ballot and if the electorate votes "yes" for IRV, it will result in better democracy in Minneapolis.

On an instant runoff voting ballot, voters rank their choices for each office-first, second, third and so on. The winner is required to have a majority of support, meaning at least 50 percent plus one vote in a single-winner race. So in a race for mayor with three or more candidates, if none has that majority after all the first choices are counted, the last-place finisher is dropped and the votes for that candidate are allocated to the second choices on those ballots. Votes are then re-tallied and the process continues until a candidate achieves the majority.

In our current system, the winner is whoever has the most votes-a plurality of votes. Sounds fair enough, until you consider that in a three-way race, such as we typically see for governor of Minnesota, the winner may emerge with only 30-some percent of the vote. That means that the majority of Minnesotans chose a candidate other than the winner. Under IRV, the winner MUST gain a majority of support.

Instant runoff voting gives women and minorities greater political clout. In the primary election (if we even bother to vote in the primary), we vote for our first choice. In the general election, we vote for our new first choice if our primary favorite was eliminated. An instant runoff voting election rolls the primary and general into a single election. That means candidates with new or challenging ideas, who are often eliminated in primaries, can be on the ballot for the general election, when a larger and more diverse electorate goes to the polls.

In multi-seat elections, such as we have for the Minneapolis Park and Library boards, instant runoff voting makes it possible for more voters to help elect candidates and ensure that women and other political minorities win representation in proportion to their voting strength. Studies show that women are more likely to run when voters have more than one representative to elect for a race.

Women also thrive in consensus-building, nonadversarial environments both while campaigning and after they are elected. IRV favors this style because candidates are more concerned about discussing what they may have in common with their opponents than in trashing them; after all, if a candidate can't be your first choice on the ballot, she will try hard to be your second.

Ranked ballot voting also eliminates the "spoiler effect." How often have you stood in the voting booth, wanting to vote for the candidate you truly love, but don't do it because you worry that you'll effectively support the one you like the least? With IRV, we can vote with our hearts, and if our favorite doesn't make it past the first or second rounds, our vote will be moved to our next choice on our ballot. We can pool rather than split our support among like-minded (women) candidates, and ensure a more accurate tally of support for third party and other candidates outside of the mainstream.

If you still aren't sure you want to listen to me, consider the lengthy list of prominent women who have endorsed instant runoff voting, including State Reps. Karen Clark, Neva Walker and Phyllis Kahn, State Sen. Jane Ranum, Minneapolis City Council Members Elizabeth Glidden and Betsy Hodges, Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, and many more. The League of Women Voters (Minneapolis and Minnesota chapters) and the National Organization for Women have also endorsed IRV.

Join them-and me-in voting "yes" for instant runoff voting on Nov. 7.

FFI: More information can be found at

Kelly O'Brien is a volunteer with the Better Ballot Campaign who works at the University of Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis.

See also:
Holding my nose
The Editor's Chair: Reflections by MWP editor
by Michele St. Martin

Minnesota Women's Press
Thursday, October 19, 2006