Ranked-Choice Voting and the Minneapolis Experience

November 5, 2013

VoteIt’s election day and those of us in Minneapolis will be choosing among 35 mayoral candidates. Three term mayor R.T. Rybak, crowd-surfer extraordinare, announced in 2012 that he would not seek re-election in 2013. The candidates consist of a wide range of serious and not-so-serious contenders. Many “fringe” candidates are running on specific issues or causes, such as transit, homelessness, foreclosures, or the development of a casino in downtown Minneapolis. Candidate Captain Jack Sparrow (his legal name by the way) can often be seen dressed as a pirate. Another candidate gained attention for appearing in a campaign advertisement in his underwear. As a Minneapolis resident, I should hopefully have plenty of interesting options to choose from come voting day.

The November 2013 election will also be the second time Minneapolis residents will be using ranked-choice, or instant runoff voting. With ranked-choice voting, voters “rank” the available candidates. A Reuters Blog post explains how ranked-choice voting works:

“Under this system, voters rank multiple candidates for office. As the votes are counted, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes reassigned to the supporters’ next highest choice. This process is repeated until a candidate has majority support among the remaining candidates.”

The benefit of ranked-choice is that it allows for more candidates to compete without the risk of having a “spoiler” candidate. This may have influenced the rather robust level of participation for the Minneapolis mayoral election. It also is said to encourage better behavior on the part of candidates, as candidates may be less likely to attack opponents out of concern that they would offend or alienate voters who might otherwise rank them as their second choice. The main stated disadvantage to ranked-choice is voter confusion, which may be a valid concern with 35 mayoral candidates. Check out the ballot I received in the mail last week:

RESEARCH REFERENCES

A simple search for RANKED-CHOICE INSTANT RUN-OFF VOTING delivers interesting results in all categories including an article co-written by FairVote.org’s Executive Director and Legal Fellow.

THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR ELECTIONS: HOW CHOICE VOTING WILL END GERRYMANDERING AND EXPAND MINORITY VOTING RIGHTS, FROM CITY COUNCILS TO CONGRESS, 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 959 (2013)

The article generally recommends replacing “winner-take-all voting rules with choice voting” and  includes a succinct history of early Congressional election methods beginning with a description of the 1842 Apportionment Act (available on Westlaw at 5 Stat. 491).

Other results worth reviewing include:

ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE, SEVERAL ELECTIONS?: INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING AND THE CONSTITUTION, 28 Vt. L. Rev. 343 (2004)

Validity of Runoff Voting Election Methodology, 67 A.L.R.6th 609 (Originally published in 2011)