Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, May 26, 2006

IRV passes Council

It's an amazing, historic day.

Today the Council referred Instant Runoff Voting to the Charter Commission to be placed on the ballot this November.

Going into the meeting, we IRV supporters knew we had just enough votes: seven Council Members (myself, Samuels, Glidden, Schiff, Remington, Benson and Hodges) had signed on to the measure to refer IRV to the Charter Commission.

Amazingly, the final vote was 11-1. The seven supporters were joined by CMs Hofstede and Colvin Roy (neither of whom voted for the measure in the IGR committee) and Goodman. Only President Johnson voted against the measure.

Congratulations to Jeanne Massey, Tony Solgard, FairVote Minnesota, the Better Ballot Campaign and the Minneapolis/5th District Green Party, which has been advocating for this for years. It was great to see Jeanne, Tony, Bill Barnett, Jim Cousins, Tim Jordan, Leif Utne and others from the campaign and the Green Party at the Council meeting today. When the final vote was taken today in the Council Chambers many (probably all) of them stood up and applauded.

On a personal note, I am espeically thrilled by the astounding progress that electoral reform has made since I first got interested in it over 10 years ago. I remember participating in a small study circle at Matthews Park on alternative voting methods in the mid-90s with Tony, John Kolstad, Ken Bearman, Dave Shove, Diane Hinderlee and others. I recall well gathering signatures in both of the previous campaigns to put IRV on the ballot (1997 and 2001). I have advocated for the system every time I've run for office and worked to make it something we use in Party elections and a top priority for the Greens.

After all this work over the years, hearing again and again how IRV would be great but it just can't happen in Minneapolis, I can hardly believe this ringing mandate from the City Council. It's a great day.

While there is still more work to be done to get this passed by the voters in November, as well as work on other important reforms like campaign finance reform, bringing ranked choice voting to the state and national levels and implementing proportional representation, let's be sure we take time to celebrate this significant, major milestone.

Thanks to everyone who has worked on this. Congratulations.


At 8:16 AM, Blogger Edwin said...

I am not sure IRV is such a great thing. It will be very expensive to initiate and will eliminate the city's primary which means the general election ballot could be filled with who-knows how many cranks and others who would have to be "ranked" by the voter. Additionally it will be confusing for voters and likely lead to more ballot errors and frustrated voters. A political scientist on NPR yesterday called IRV "a solution in search of a problem" and I tend to agree. I understand that the city's own election office is not very supportive of this method at all and that the legislature may not even allow it to be implemented. In short, we does the city need IRV when we already have fair and open elections that elect a diversity (within the Minneapolis liberal culture) of candidates?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Robin Garwood said...

In response to Edwin,

I've heard your concerns expressed by others before, and I'll do my best to address them.

1) Eliminating primary allows "cranks" onto general election ballot.

Yes, less viable candidates will make it to the general election ballot. But there are certainly plenty of cases where there are more than two viable candidates going into a primary – look at last year’s races in Wards 8 and 10, or the 2001 Ward 2 race, where the vote was split fairly evenly between three strong candidates.

Besides, if less viable candidates make it to the general, who is harmed? Sure, the ballot will have more names on it, but if voters can be expected to wade their way through all those names in the primary they can certainly do so in the general.

2) Candidates “have to” be ranked by the voter.

This just isn’t true. If an individual voter only likes one candidate, she/he can vote for just that candidate. The ranking is an option open to each voter, and one that I think many will welcome, but no voter will be forced to rank more than one candidate.

3) IRV will be confusing, frustrating, lead to more spoiled ballots.

This is not borne out by other cities’ experience with IRV. The same concerns were raised when San Francisco made the switch, and SF voters understood the method, liked it, and would not willingly go back to non-ranked voting. Look here:

The Mpls Elections Department was part of the IRV task force, and they fully understand the need for voter education, especially at the polls. They plan to dramatically increase the number of elections judges – a cost offset by not having to pay elections judges for two separate elections.

Lastly, on spoiled ballots, the voting machines we use currently and any machines we would replace them with use a paper ballot which is inserted to be counted. If there are problems with how a ballot is marked, the machine spits it out for the voter to review if she/he chooses. This is a non-issue.

4) The City Elections Department isn’t supportive of IRV.

This is not true. Cindy Reichert, our highly competent Elections Director, did want the Council to be aware of the costs and potential difficulties around implementing IRV. She is confident that the Department can and will rise to the challenge.

That said, IRV is a policy question and City staff do not make policy. Policy is set by elected officials, representing as best they can the will of the people of Minneapolis.

5) The Legislature may not allow IRV to be implemented.

The Legislature does not have the power to prevent us from implementing IRV. Minneapolis is what’s known as a charter city, and there’s quite a bit of precedent stating that we have the legal authority to use whichever constitutional voting system we prefer.

6) IRV isn’t needed, it’s “a solution looking for a problem.”

I’ve heard this phrase a few times now; it’s clearly an anti-IRV “talking point.” It’s not a very honest argument, in my opinion. Those of us who support IRV support it for reasons. Go ahead and disagree with those reasons, but please don’t try to tell us they don’t exist.

Here are a few reasons I favor IRV.

a) The primary system is terrible. Decisions are being made by tiny minorities of voters – 15% turnout in last year’s primary. We should make public decisions with the participation of the most people. IRV does this, the current system does not.

b) In State and Federal elections, candidates are being elected with minorities of the vote. IRV is our best hope for making it impossible for someone (like our last two Governors) to be elected with less than a majority. The only way to get to that point is to prove that the system works, and Minneapolis can be a model.

c) The “spoiler” factor. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard from a potential voter that they’d like to vote for the (Green Party) candidate I’m volunteering for, but they’re scared that they’ll “take votes away” from the “electable” person in the race, therefore allowing their least-preferred candidate to win with a slight plurality. IRV completely deals with this concern, freeing voters to vote their consciences.

These are just a few of the reasons I think IRV would be better for Minneapolis democracy than the current system.

7) Aren’t Minneapolis elections good enough already?

I agree with you that our elections are pretty good, better than in many other places. This is not a legitimate reason not to improve them, though. In fact, it’s one of the best reasons to improve them – if not Minneapolis, with our positive voting culture, then who?

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Edwin said...

Minneapolis is a charter city. But a city has only the powers given to it by the state. The Legislature could abolish the city of Minneapolis, merge it with St Paul, change its boundaries or eliminate its charter. This is because a city is nothing but a creation of the state. The Legislature could easily override IRV as they elimiated the city's resident requirement for cops a few years ago.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Edwin said...

Additionally, I didn't say "spoiled" ballots, I said ballot errors and frustrated voters. The machine will certainly catch the error, but the voters will make them and will be frustrated by having to make new ballots.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Robin Garwood said...

In response to Edwin,

The police officer residency requirement is not a good analogy to IRV. It was specifically allowed by an act of the Legislature that was later repealed.

On the other hand, there is firm precedent for municipalities choosing their voting systems, unmolested by the Legislature.

1) In Brown v. Smallwood (a case often cited by IRV opponents), the court said: "We are of the opinion that it was the intention of the legislature that, [the office in question] should be elected at the general municipal election of Duluth in the manner provided for elections by the charter. The election was a local one, of no particular concern to the rest of the state, and there was no reason why it should not be conducted by the local machinery...If the preferential system of voting was constitutional, there is no reason why it should not be applied to [the office in question]." So the courts clearly support home rule authority.

2) While the Legislature may rein in a city's home rule authority to decide on its own election rules, it has only done so twice: to affect how cities must draw precinct borders and apply campaign contribution limits to municipal elections. Mucking about in what method a charter city uses to hold its elections would be a radical departure from historical precedent.

3) The city of Hopkins used IRV for almost a decade and neither the Legislature nor the courts interfered.

4) The argument that the Legislature could overrule the City Charter and Code could be used against taking any local action. The Legislature, as you point out, could "abolish the City of Minneapolis." Is that really a good reason not to put any policy in place?

As to your second comment, clarifying that you were not talking about spoiled ballots, you're right. The possibility exists that IRV will inconvenience some voters. But I think it's pretty clear that the system on balance will be much MORE convenient for the vast majority of voters. Rather than having to come in and vote twice, we'll be able to vote once. Rather than having to worry about our vote inadvertently helping our least favorite candidate, we'll be sure that we can vote our conscience and vote strategically. Rather than having our most preferred candidate lose in the primary and have no reason to come in for the general, we will be able to make our mark at the point when turnout is highest. On balance, I believe that IRV will increase overall voter satisfaction. And again, my opinion is informed by the experience of San Francisco, where voters very clearly prefer their ranked choice voting to the old system and do not want to go back.

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Ted said...

You raise an interesting point. why did Hopkins abandon IRV?


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