The 2017 municipal elections in Minneapolis and Saint Paul greatly exceeded the expectations of Ranked Choice Voting advocates. The elections showed the power of RCV to create a more inclusive, participatory and representative democracy. With stronger than expected voter participation, high levels of ranking among voters of all ages, ethnicities, income and education levels, and a nearly 100 percent valid ballot rate, voters in both cities demonstrated that they understood RCV, they liked it and -- based on consistent exit polls interviews -- they want to continue using it. These trends have become more pronounced with each consecutive election in which RCV is used.
Moreover, the campaign seasons in both cities were notable for their lack of vitriol and “mudslinging,” with a few limited attempts at sullying a mayoral candidate in Saint Paul and council candidates in Minneapolis backfiring and harming the candidates these efforts were intended to help.
The other positive result of these elections were the outcomes: more diverse leadership than ever before, including the re-election of the city’s first Somali-American and Latina members and two transgender council members, both of whom are people of color. In Saint Paul, the first African-American mayoral candidate, Melvin Carter, was elected with a 51 percent majority in the first round. But RCV didn’t just foster a more diverse set of winners. By opening and leveling the playing field, RCV elections make it possible for more, and more diverse, candidates to run and to help shape the conversation about the future of their cities.
Despite the increasingly hollow claims of RCV detractors, Ranked Choice Voting has been decisively proven to be an easy, fair and preferred method of choosing leaders by a broad swath of the Twin Cities' electorate in the Twin Cities. Not surprisingly, cities from Saint Louis Park to Rochester now are pursuing a switch to RCV.
A quick glance at the 2017 elections results reveals:
- A surge in turnout in Minneapolis, with 105,928 (43%) of voters casting a ballot in 2017 -- the highest for a municipal election in 20 years and a more than 32 percent increase over 2013. In Saint Paul, 61,646 (27%) voters turned out on election day, also the highest participation in nearly twenty years.
- Higher-than-ever numbers of voters ranked their ballots -- nearly 90 percent in Minneapolis and 76 percent in Saint Paul -- indicating voters were well educated and prepared to rank their ballots.
- A nearly 100 percent valid ballot rate.
- An overwhelming share of voters (92 percent in Minneapolis and 83 percent in Saint Paul) who said RCV was “simple to use.”
- Supermajorities of voters in both cities who said they want to continue using RCV locally and statewide.
- Widely noted civility across the campaigns. In Saint Paul, only 9.6 percent of voters said that candidates spent most of their time criticizing their opponents. In Minneapolis, this percentage was 8.4 percent. Thus, an overwhelming percentage of Saint Paul (90.4 percent) voters and 91.6 percent of Minneapolis voters perceived that candidates did not spend most of their time criticizing opponents.
- While some criticism and critique of opposing candidates will always happen )and we did see independent negative attacks on social media and by PACs), these numbers confirm another well-known benefit of RCV elections: overall candidates themselves overall focus on positive, solutions-based campaigns versus denigrating their opponents.
- In Saint Paul, 90 percent of voters and 88 percent of Minneapolis voters said they were satisfied with their mayoral choices. It seems logical to surmise that voter satisfaction would be substantially lower if voters felt “turned off” by a mean-spirited campaign season. It also seems possible that the overall lack of negativity helped boost turnout as the corollary is true, negative campaigning is explicitly designed to suppress voter turnout.
- The election of Melvin Carter, Saint Paul’s first African American mayor.
- The election of the most diverse City Council in history, including an African American councilmember, two transgender people of color and the re-election of the first Somali-American and Latina.
- The election of an African American Park Board Commissioner and the first Somali-American elected to the Park Board.
The Bottom Line:
The 2017 municipal elections in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul proved once again that voters:
- Like RCV
- Understand RCV
- Want to keep using RCV
- Want to see RCV expanded to state elections