Minnesota to vote on instant-runoff voting method

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June 25, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Following the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of an instant-runoff vote, the St. Paul City Council unanimously decided yesterday to put it to a vote in November. Last year, more than 5,300 people signed a petition to hold a referendum concerning adopting instant-runoff voting, but the council refused to add it to the ballot because the city attorney felt it was probably unconstitutional. The council promised that if the method was deemed constitutional, they would put it on the ballot, and they have followed through with that promise.[1]

Instant-runoff voting is a method designed to eliminate unnecessary primaries and assure that the winner holds a majority of the vote, rather than simply a plurality. Voters rank candidates in order, and then the first palce votes are added up. If no one has a majority, the last-place candidate is dropped with their votes going to the next ranked candidate on those ballots. The process continues until someone gains a majority. Such a procedure is particularly suited for Minnesota: the last three governor's elections were won by someone who got the plurality, but not the majority, of the vote.

Proponents of the bill see this as a sign that the council is upholding voter's wishes, rather than making a partisan decision regarding more beneficial voting method for one party or another. When the State Supreme Court approved the measure, City Attorney Susan Segal said, "The court's decision means that the city can continue to move forward with implementing ranked choice voting - the method chosen overwhelmingly by Minneapolis voters in the 2006 voter referendum."[2]

Opponents say the system violates the traditional American conception of voting as "one person, one vote;" those who voted for a losing candidate will essentially get a second choice. Erick Kaardal, attorney for the opposing coalition which includes "Minnesota Voter's Alliance," has said that the court's ruling does not prevent people from filing lawsuits over an instant runoff election to contest how the votes were counted, particularly because voting machines are only designed to accept a single selection per person. After the first round of voting, the only way to continue the process is to count by hand, which worries some officials about not only corruption and easier means towards voter fraud, but even whether or not they would have the resources for such a process to go smoothly.[3]