Statewide task force will study IRV

The Secretary of State’s office is putting together a statewide task force that will examine the new voting method Minneapolis residents will use in future municipal elections.

The group will look into issues related to instant runoff voting (IRV), a method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference rather than choosing one. Participants will examine other municipalities’ experiences, voting equipment, and state statues that may need to be reworked.

The first meeting of the so-called Ranked Choice Voting Issues Group was scheduled for June 27, with other meetings to be planned in the future. The task force will include elected officials, elections professionals, and community and advocacy group stakeholders.

Kingfield resident Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota, a group that advocates for voting reform, and will serve on the task force. The first thing the group needs to do is develop rules and procedures for how IRV will be implemented and used at the polls, Massey said. The discussion will also touch on whether it’s feasible for Minneapolis to use IRV in the 2009 municipal elections or whether it will need to be postponed to 2013 to allow more time for obtaining equipment and complying with the rules and procedures.

"The task force will be a place where we can explore options," Massey said.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) said because Minneapolis will be the first municipality in the state to implement IRV, this task force and its discussions will be key for the city as it moves forward. It will also be important to work on a statewide level since other communities have also expressed an interest in using IRV and achieving statewide consensus could be a benefit in negotiations with voting equipment vendors, Glidden said. Minneapolis residents approved the use of IRV during the 2006 elections. The city needs to work with state officials to figure out exactly what measures need to be in place before the city uses the new voting method for the first time, she said.

"We want to make sure that we’re dotting all our I’s and crossing our T’s,"

Glidden said. "There are a lot of steps that need to happen."

Glidden and Massey were among several local and state officials who traveled to Scotland in early May to view how that country implemented for the first time single transferable vote, a voting method similar to IRV, in its local government elections. Other members of the delegation that traveled to Scotland included Cindy Reichert, elections director for Minneapolis; Michelle DesJardin, Hennepin County’s manager of voter registration and election information; Gary Poser, Minnesota elections director; and Tyrone Bujold, a retired attorney, Minneapolis Charter Commission member and member of the FairVote Minnesota board.

 Some of the most important things Glidden said she learned from observing the process in Scotland are that investment in good ballot design with clear directions is key; precinct-level counts that notify voters at the polling station of ballot errors are essential; polling station aides are an important tool in assisting voters in navigating a new voting method; and voter education efforts will increase the success of the new method.

"It was really helpful just to see what went into the election process," Glidden said.

Reach Kari VanDerVeen at [email protected] or 436-4373.