The Elections Committee has passed a Request for Proposals for equipment and/or services to allow us to conduct the 2009 election using Ranked Choice Voting. The Election Department, led by Cindy Reichert, did a great job of putting together an RFP on a fast timeline - they were directed by the Council to do this work on March 7. The RFP is great, just what I was looking for. It offers flexibility on the question of error notification, making clear that we want full notification of all errors (overvotes, skipped rankings, ranking candidates more than once), but that it is not a hard requirement.
The committee also passed an ordinance establishing our ranked choice counting rules. This ordinance was based on the output of Mark Ritchie's Ranked Choice Task Force that met last year, and was initially drafted by my Aide Robin and Jeanne Massey of FairVote Minnesota, along with Cindy Reichert and others.
There was one small edit that I felt needed to be made, dealing with Normalization and Advancement. This is a process used in 5 of the 6 other jurisdictions in the US that use Ranked Choice Voting (and may be used in the sixth - we're not sure), to ensure that we do not prematurely exhaust votes if voters skip rankings. Under this system, if a voter skips a ranking, for instance by filling in ranks 1, 2, 4 and 5, the voting equipment continues over the skipped 3rd rank, in effect treating 4 as 3 and 5 as 4. I strongly believe that we should, wherever possible, count every vote, and when voters make mistakes we should assume that they are honest mistakes, and not attempts to vote incorrectly on purpose (as my colleague Betsy Hodges so eloquently pointed out).
Steve Hill, an organizer in California who helped lead both the ballot campaign and implementation of San Francisco's ranked choice elections, has said this about N&A: “…we felt it was important in California for us to err on the side of maximum voter enfranchisement. California law has a long history of 'counting every vote' and doing all that is possible to ensure that goal, and that the policy of 'jump to the next valid ranking' was the right decision that came closest to fulfilling this goal.” I agree wholeheartedly. I believe this position is also in keeping with Minnesota's Voter Intent statute, which states that "“A ballot shall not be rejected for a technical error that does not make it impossible to determine the voter's intent.”
It's also important to note that the two major election equipment companies (ES&S and Sequoia) who have developed ranked choice software for use in the US have only
developed software that includes N&A processes. Minneapolis would have to pay more to get software without it, and this might have also prevented us from working out a deal to share development costs with other jurisdictions looking for ranked choice-capable equipment.
I'm glad the Council voted with me on this. For the record, CMs Remington, Glidden, Lilligren, Hodges, Schiff, Benson and Ostrow voted in favor of using N&A, and CMs Johnson, Goodman, and Colvin Roy voted against. CM Samuels was not in committee today, and CM Hofstede was not in the room for the vote.
I consider the totality of the committee's actions today to be a major victory for better democracy in Minneapolis, and a huge step towards possibly holding our first ranked choice election in 2009. After tomorrow's Council meeting (which I expect to reaffirm the actions of the committee today), the next move belongs to the equipment vendors.