IRV measure now goes back to the Council
After receiving overwhelming support from the City Council, a proposed ordinance that would change the way Minneapolis residents vote in city elections was narrowly rejected by the Charter Commission.
The Charter Commission rejected the proposed ordinance, which would eliminate primary elections and make instant runoff voting (IRV) the city's voting method, by a 7-6 vote at its June 7 meeting. The proposal will now go back to the City Council, which can accept or reject the Charter Commission's decision. If the Council rejects the Commission's decision and doesn't make any changes to the proposed ordinance, it will go on the ballot this fall. If the Council accepts the Charter Commission's decision, IRV advocates can still get the proposed ordinance on the ballot this fall by collecting an estimated 10,000 signatures in a petition.
Charter Commission Chair Jim Bernstein said while he is personally opposed to IRV for a variety of reasons, he rejected the proposed ordinance mainly because it is not specific enough about the new voting process.
“I think that on a ballot, we need to be very specific about what the system is and how it works,” Bernstein said. “And that is not currently being proposed here.”
With instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than choosing one. When all the ballots are collected, first choices are counted. If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate who received the fewest votes is defeated. Those ballots are then recounted and the candidate listed as the second choice receives those votes. The process is repeated until a candidate receives a majority of votes. Switching to instant runoff voting would eliminate primary elections.
But Bernstein said the process to get IRV on this fall's ballot has been rushed and there are still a number of questions that have been left unanswered about the new system. Like other critics, he said he has questions about the cost and legality of implementing the new system, the city's ability to acquire new software and hardware to operate elections using IRV, and making sure voters are informed about how the process works.
Ian Stade was one of the six commissioners who voted in favor of the proposed IRV ordinance. It was his first meeting as a commissioner, but he said he focused on the language of the proposal and not the underlying issues of IRV. The Charter Commission's job was simply to review the language, he said.
“I think it's up to the City Council to figure out how to pay for things and to be concerned with those legalities,” Stade said. “ I just thought that some people might have been voting for the wrong reason.”
The Commission's vote was a disappointment for those working on an effort called the Better Ballot Campaign, which has been pushing hard to get a question on the ballot this fall asking voters if they want future city elections to include instant runoff voting. But campaign organizer and Kingfield resident Jeanne Massey said while the proposed ordinance does not have the support of the Charter Commission, the more important decision was made by the City Council. Several councilmembers spoke in favor of IRV before the entire Council voted 12-1 to support it.
“I actually think this is a courageous move for the City Council and shows we are willing to take risks to improve our government,” said Councilmember Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) during the May 26 City Council meeting where the ordinance was approved. “We know that democracy is important in our government and in our world, but I think too often we don't think about ways to improve it.”
Council President Barb Johnson, the lone vote against the proposed ordinance, said she wants to know what the cost of IRV will be and whether it's legal before she supports it.
“I don't think we have the answer to either of these, which is why I won't be supporting it,” Johnson said.
Massey and others working on the Better Ballot Campaign won't dwell on the Charter Commission's decision for too long.
“It's now about educating voters and getting people to turn out and organizing volunteers,” Massey said.
Organizers of the Better Ballot Campaign will be at parades and festivals this summer working to educate voters on IRV. Massey also emphasized that the group is continuing to make presentations to and is seeking endorsements from neighborhood organizations.
More information about the Better Ballot Campaign can be found at www.fairvotemn.org.
Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 436-4373.