Ranked choice voting in Minneapolis likely to remain 3 deep

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May 24, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

A proposal floated before the City Council to expand the number of candidates Minneapolis voters can rank is on life support.

The City Council was mulling an idea pushed by ranked choice voting advocates that would have allowed voters to rank five or six candidates instead of the three they ranked for the 2009 election. But that idea didn’t have legs on the City Council as some members questioned the ethics of how they could change election procedure just six months before all 13 Council seats are up for re-election.

“I don’t think we should be voting on this,” said City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7). “We should do what we did last time … pass it off until after we’re affected by it.”

FairVote Minnesota has been advocating for the change. Executive Director Jeanne Massey said the group has wanted five or six rankings since the ranked choice ordinance passed in 2008, but at the time the city’s voting technology couldn’t support six candidates.

Massey said it’s the Council’s job to amend the ranked choice voting ordinance.

“It is simply the case that the proposed changes are aligned with the installment of new voting equipment and the timing for decisions on these changes couldn’t have been any sooner,” she said.

The ordinance passed in 2008 states that when possible, a voter should be allowed to “rank at least three candidates for each office in order of preference.”

Massey said in an election like this year’s mayoral race with a wide field, it’s possible that a voter might rank three candidates that don’t make it to the final ballot, leaving their ballots exhausted and set aside. She said that was the case in San Francisco, where 53,000 ballots were exhausted in the 2011 mayoral race.

Massey said she’s not giving up on expanding the field. She said it stands a chance of passing the City Council in mid-June, but said “we’ll need to make rounds with the council members.”

Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) has been supportive of the ranking expansion, but acknowledged that it’s unlikely to happen because of a lack of Council support.

City Clerk Casey Carl said he’s proceeding with keeping the 2013 ballot style the same as 2009 – allowing three choices — until the City Council tells him otherwise. He said that if the Council decides to expand to six candidates, he needs to know as soon as possible because he plans to start voter outreach efforts in mid-June and he wants to allow voters to see exactly what their ballots will look like.   

Ranked choice voting premiered in Minneapolis during the 2009 election, but it didn’t get a good test because the mayoral race was uncompetitive and the election had a very low turnout.

That style of voting allows a voter to rank several candidates. If after one round of ballot counting the voter’s first place choice has been eliminated, the voter’s second choice candidate receives to the voter’s support. That process continues until one candidate gets 50 percent of the vote. For more on ranked choice voting, visit http://fairvotemn.org/howRCVworks.