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, March 15, 2013

Busting Myths on Ranked Choice Voting

There is quite a lot of misinformation swirling around regarding Ranked Choice Voting.  I have tried to bust some of these myths in the memo I circulated to legislators and through an op-ed that I submitted to the Star Tribune and posted earlier on this blog.  This is a 'utility post' for RCV myth-busting, bringing together as many of the commonly-repeated myths as I can, and providing a counterpoint from reality.  I'll note that I'm not the only one who has had this idea - FairVote Minnesota has also put out a very useful "Myths Vs. Facts" document.  Read more below the fold.

Myth: “Ranked-choice balloting cost the city five times more than traditional voting.” 
Reality: This is not true.  The 2009 ranked choice municipal election cost $1.47 million.  The 2005 non-ranked choice municipal election cost $1.12 million.  The increase was due in large part to a costly hand count that will be unnecessary in future elections, once Minneapolis has the RCV-capable voting machines we expect to purchase in 2013.

Myth: RCV is just more expensive than standard voting.
Reality: The 2009 RCV election required an expensive hand count.  In 2013, the City is counting on having voting machines in place that will make a hand count unnecessary, but because those machines are currently in certification, the City is wisely building in a contingency fund for the unlikely event that a hand count will be necessary.  This contingency will not be necessary for future RCV municipal elections, and the costs will go down. Further, several of the expenses (e.g., training for new equipment of additional election judges in anticipation of higher turnout) proposed in the 2013 election are unrelated to RCV. The actual RCV-related costs this year are specifically related to the contingency fund and voter education.  RCV requires good voter education, but that is a good thing – all elections would benefit from more voter education.  And remember, RCV in municipalities does away with expensive, extremely low-voter turnout primaries. City election officials in 2009 projected RCV would reduce the cost of elections over time.

Myth: RCV costs more per voter than standard voting.
Reality: This is not true.  This myth is based on a misinterpretation of a “per voter cost” analysis prepared by the Minneapolis Elections Department.  The per voter cost is higher in lower-turnout elections, meaning that the special election in 2011 and the nonpartisan primary in 2005 were certainly more expensive per voter than the 2009 RCV general election.  During a higher turnout RCV election (as I expect we'll see this year), the cost per voter will decrease.

Myth: “Ballot errors” equal disenfranchisement. 
Reality: In every single case an error was made in 2009, either the voter corrected his or her ballot or the elections staff was able to determine voter's intent with respect to the office being counted.  The only ballots that would not have counted for a particular race are from “partially defective” ballots, defined as ballots cast for a particular race for which Minneapolis Elections staff was “unable to determine voter's intent with respect to the office being counted.” There were no “partially” defective ballots cast in 2009 and only one fully defective ballot, which had nothing to do with RCV.

Myth: “Ballot errors” mean that minority communities were less able to vote in 2009.
Reality: Only “partially defective” ballots (defined as ballots cast for a particular race for which Minneapolis Elections staff was “unable to determine voter's intent with respect to the office being counted”) would have gone uncounted in 2009, but there were no “partially defective” ballots cast.  The number of partially defective ballots in Precinct 10 of Ward 2 (the ward I represent): zero.  In the Ward 5 City Council race: zero.  In  the At-Large Park Board race: zero

Myth: The state Supreme Court ruled that RCV was constitutional on its face, but it might be unconstitutional “as applied.”

Reality: Despite efforts by organizations set up to oppose ranked choice voting, no lawsuit alleging that RCV was unconstitutional “as applied” was even filed subsequent to the 2009 election.

Myth: Lower turnout in the 2009 municipal election “proves” that RCV doesn’t boost turnout.

Reality: No major candidate, either DFL or Green, challenged Mayor RT Rybak in 2009.  Without a competitive race at the top of the ticket, turnout unsurprisingly fell.   In contrast, voter turnout is expected to increase significantly this year due to an anticipated highly competitive mayoral race.  RCV was not responsible for low turnout in 2009 and it won’t be responsible for high turnout in 2013. High profile, competitive citywide races historically turn out the most voters.  What RCV does do is eliminate the low-turnout, unrepresentative nonpartisan primary, thereby maximizing voter participation in the selection of the winner.

Myth: RCV didn’t ensure majority winners in single-seat races in 2009.
Reality: RCV ensured that all winners of single-seat races received a majority of continuing votes.  In the Park Board District 5 race, the winner received 52.5% of continuing votes.  Not all voters have a preference after their first choice, and under RCV, that’s perfectly acceptable.

Myth: RCV was responsible in 2009 for the defeat of minority candidates.
Reality: The most commonly cited example, Mary Merrill Anderson, received fewer votes than three of her opponents in an election for three at-large seats.  Under the standard “first past the post” voting method, she would not have prevailed.

Myth:  Voter errors are unique to RCV
Reality: Voter errors are not unique to RCV and, in fact, are highest in traditional partisan primary elections, in which voters erroneously vote for candidates from more than one party.  In Ward 5, a majority-minority ward with traditionally lower turnout than average, the rate of “spoiled” ballots in partisan primaries is typically in the teens and reached as high as 22 percent in 2002, compared to 7 percent in the 2009 RCV election.  Keep in mind that these errors were caught by the machines and corrected by the voter so no one was disenfranchised, but it’s critical to point out that ballot errors are not unique to RCV and are greatest in partisan primaries.

Myth: Voter errors unique to RCV will always be a problem.
Reality:  Any unique errors due to RCV can be reduced and eliminated with better ballot design, error notification at the polls and clearer instructions provided to voters at the polls. The City of Minneapolis is working to make improvements in all these areas (and the same should be done to reduce error rates in partisan primaries).  With respect to error notification provided by machines, we will be working with voting machine vendors on software changes that will allow voting machines to alert voters to errors unique to RCV, like skipped or repeated rankings, to give voters a chance to redo a ballot with such an error.  Our goal is to have this technological solution available for the next municipal election.

Myth: Some voter errors didn’t allow their ballots to be counted in 2009.
Reality: No, that’s not true.  Yes, the City’s “normalization” chart shows two examples of votes (such as a skipped first and second ranking with a vote in the third ranking) that would not have been counted.  However, these ballots would have been considered “partially defective,” because it would not have been possible to determine voter intent.  Because no “partially defective” ballots were cast in 2009, no voter made these types of errors.


At 10:53 PM, Anonymous William Waugh said...

RCV can be OK for a multi-winner district (not sure whether that's what you're talking about). But for a single-winner election, RCV still sustains a two-party system. Score voting and Approval voting, by contrast permit additional parties to rise.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Marcia said...

Also. Votes must always be counted by hand. And Voting is of such prime importance to our society we should not spare expenses when needed.

Machines can be manipulated.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Marcia said...

Votes must always be hand counted. No other manner is secure and verifiable.

Elections are of such importance that the cost should not be a deterrent.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger DLW said...

The value added of IRV is both from eliminating the low-turnout primaries and when there are competitive elections. However, competitive elections are not common in "more local" elections like city council elections. Thus, it'd be even better to use multi-seat elections for say 12 of the 13 city council member elections, with 3 seats per 4 super wards, rather than one seat per 13 wards.


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