Majority rule

Categories: Minneapolis

Will Minneapolis adopt instant-runoff voting?

Third party candidates, whether from the Green or Constitution parties, are inevitably decried as spoilers. This year's primary pinata in this regard is Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson. If Gov. Tim Pawlenty squeaks out a victory over attorney general Mike Hatch, Democrats will almost certainly blame Hutchinson for costing them the state's top office.

Minneapolis residents will have a chance to vote on a measure this election day that would help eliminate such scapegoating of third-party candidates. Voters will choose whether to adopt instant-runoff voting in municipal elections. Under such a system voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of top choices, the lowest vote getter is eliminated. This process is repeated until one candidate achieves a majority. Thus every elected official would be put into office by more than half of the people voting.

Backers of the initiative point to a couple of other positive impacts that ranked ballots would have on the electoral process. For starters it would allow the city to eliminate low-turnout primary elections, thus reducing costs and focusing voter attention on the general election. Additionally proponents argue that it would create a disincentive for politicians to engage in nasty, divisive campaigns. "They can't win just by going after a narrow base," says Tony Solgard, president of Fair Vote Minnesota, one of the chief backers of the ballot measure. "They have an incentive to reach out to supporters of their rivals."

Previous attempts to introduce IRV in Minnesota have been stymied. In 2004 the Roseville City Council passed a measure that would have allowed ranked ballots to be used in municipal elections. But because Roseville is not a "home rule" city it had to seek permission from the legislature for the change in election rules. The senate passed the measure, but it got scuttled in the house. Many political observers attributed the derailing of the IRV measure to opposition from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state's powerful anti-abortion organization.

In the last decade, however, IRV has slowly been making inroads across the country. Municipalities such as San Francisco and Burlington, Vermont have adopted ranked ballots, while voters in three other cities will weigh in on ballot measures similar to the one in Minneapolis on election day.

Pretty much every elected official in Minneapolis is supporting the measure, from Mayor R.T. Rybak on down to library board members. DFL gubernatorial contender Mike Hatch has also endorsed the ballot initiative. IRV boosters say the biggest impediment to getting the measure passed is ignorance on the part of voters. "Making a change like this is not easy," says Solgard. "There's a lot of people who have never heard of it before."


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