Response to Ranked Choice Critics
The Star Tribune has run two anti-Ranked Choice Voting pieces, one of them a news article and one an Op-Ed. They also ran a very good, pro-RCV commentary from Jeanne Massey, Executive Director of FairVote Minnesota.
Here's my take:
As a supporter of Ranked Choice Voting and someone who has closely followed its implementation in Minneapolis, I may be able to clear up some confusing information that has appeared in the Star Tribune recently.
A February 28 article (“Funds for election come up short”) and March 5 opinion piece (“Ranked-choice voting hurts Minneapolis minorities”) contain a number of inaccuracies that warrant correcting.
The article claims that “ranked-choice balloting… cost the city five times more than traditional voting.” This is not accurate. The Elections Department spent $1.47 million in 2009, the year of our first ranked choice (RCV) election. They spent $1.12 million in 2005, our last non-ranked choice municipal election year. That’s an increase of less than one third. The article’s assertion appears to be based on a “cost per voter” calculation, but this statistic is changed much more by voter turnout than by actual costs. The cost per voter in the 2011 special election (which used the “traditional” method) was substantially higher than in the 2009 RCV election. Remember, RCV does away with the lowest-turnout elections, nonpartisan primaries, which due to their low turnout also have high costs per voter; in the 2005 primary, only 15% of Minneapolis voters cast a ballot.
The article also left out information. One of the drivers for additional funding for this year is the need to have a contingency fund for a hand count in the unlikely event that voting machines are not certified in time for this year’s election. I expect machines to be certified, and the Council is committed to work with Hennepin County and the Secretary of State’s office to make sure this happens. Additionally, the 2013 budget includes non-RCV related supplementary expenses including election judge training for new equipment and anticipated higher voter turnout. Finally, the request for this year’s election of $1,684,446 (including the supplemental request) is in line with the Clerk’s request for future years: $1.4 million in 2014 and $1.6 million in 2016. Only a small share of the budgeted increase is specifically for RCV activities and that is primarily for voter education.
I also want to clear up some confusion that may result from the March 5 opinion piece, which equated “ballot errors” with “disenfranchisement.” They are in no way equal. Disenfranchisement means to deprive someone of the right to vote. Ballot errors include “repeat ranking of the same candidate, skipped ranking with a column left blank as if to vote for none of the choices, and overvotes within a column.”
In every single case an error was made, 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.
Every voter who wanted to cast a vote for a particular race in 2009 was able to do so. If a voter voted more than once within a column, the voting machine alerted the voter, who was then able to fill out a new ballot. If a voter skipped a ranking, their next ranking, if any, was counted. If a voter ranked a certain candidate more than once, their next ranking for a different candidate, if any, was counted.
The number of partially defective ballots in Precinct 10 of Ward 2: zero. In the Ward 5 City Council race: zero. In the At-Large Park Board race: zero.
“Voter error ballots” do not equal disenfranchisement and the city will make that clearer to the public when reporting results this year. Higher instances of errors could be explained in any number of ways and going forward they might point out the need for clearer ballot design and better voter education. But any attempt to equate these voter practices with disenfranchisement, or not having a vote counted, is wrong.