Council puts question about IRV to city voters

Residents who hit the polls this fall will have say on new voting method

The question of whether Minneapolis should switch to a new voting method will now be up to those it affects most - the city's voters.

The City Council voted 12-1 at its Aug. 4 meeting to put a question on the ballot this fall asking voters whether the city should adopt Instant Runoff Voting.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) - also known as Single Transferable Vote and Ranked Choice Voting - is a method that has 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 IRV would eliminate primary elections.

If voters approve IRV this fall, it goes into effect in the 2009 municipal election unless the city isn't prepared to implement the new system. If the City Council isn't ready at that time or doesn't feel it has the necessary technology in place, it can vote to postpone the implementation of IRV until the 2013 municipal election.

The City Council's vote to put IRV on the ballot this fall came after members of the Charter Commission voted 8-7 at their Aug. 2 meeting to reject the proposed ordinance. The proposal then went back to the City Council, which has the authority to reject or accept the Charter Commission's decision. Because the City Council rejected the Charter Commission's decision and didn't make any changes to the proposed ordinance, the measure will go on the ballot this fall.

City Council President Barb Johnson was the lone vote against putting IRV on the ballot this fall. At an Elections Committee meeting immediately preceding the City Council meeting, Johnson expressed concern that using IRV in multiple-seat elections would become confusing for voters and cumbersome for election organizers. She said she would like to see the races for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Library Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation - all with multiple-seat elections - taken out of consideration for this type of voting method. She also expressed concern at the large number of candidates that could end up on the ballot with no primary election in place.

&#8220I'm really reluctant to throw that into the mix and have the option of people trying to wade through, during their one and only time to vote, 60 names at once,” Johnson said.

But other councilmembers said one of the selling points of IRV is that it eliminates primary elections that typically have low voter turnout and allows a greater number of voters to have a wider selection of candidates to choose from in the general election. Eliminating primary elections for some city races but still having them for multiple-seat races on the independent boards would result in a dismal primary turnout for those seats, Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said. He also argued that eliminating primary elections is a way to give candidates who normally wouldn't make it past that initial election a chance in the general election.

&#8220It's about people who want to run for office being able to and not being excluded by a primary process that is sometimes exclusionary,” Remington said.