Ranked-choice voting guaranteed for fall election

A state Supreme Court ruling and a decision from the City Council combined June 12 to guarantee that Minneapolis will implement ranked-choice voting in the November election.

A case brought forward by the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a citizens’ group, had contested that the runoff method, approved by voters in 2006, doesn’t equate to one person, one vote. But the Supreme Court on June 11 upheld an earlier decision by Hennepin County District Judge George McGunnigle that sided with the city.

“Instant Runoff Voting as adopted in Minneapolis is not facially invalid under United States or Minnesota Constitution,” the Supreme Court opinion said. (Read the entire ruling here.)

The decision arrived right on time for Minneapolis, which had set June 11 as a suggested deadline for the court.

“We are just so pleased to have certainty on the constitutionality of this issue," said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), the chairwoman of the city’s elections committee. 

The city had been preparing on dual tracks — while getting ready for the new voting method, it also was working toward the possibility of bringing back the familiar primary system. There had been just two ways a primary could have returned: if the Supreme Court had deemed ranked-choice unconstitutional or if the City Council had decided the city isn’t ready to implement the system.

A recent update from then-Elections Director Cynthia Reichert said a test 600-ballot RCV election went well, although staff likely will need more space, more voter education and constant counting supervision. Reichert said they also will need more time than voters have been used to.

That concerned several on the council, especially Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward). She said 129 days, the projected worst-case scenario for how much time could be needed to finish counting ballots, are too many and "unacceptable to voters of Minneapolis."

Johnson also said she was worried that because of the complexities of applying ranked-choice voting to multiple-seat elections, lawsuits could follow.

"I wonder what that wil do to the business of the Park Board and the Board of Estimate and Taxation," she said.

Johnson ended up as one of two council members who on June 12 dissented on what was essentially a vote to end the city’s dual-track preparations. The other was Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), who said that while he supports using ranked-choice voting for single-seat races, applying it to multiple-seat races is "a mistake."

Most council members acknowledged that the first year with the new system will be a challenge. But several said that more important is for the city to enact what the voters approved in 2006.

"This is a great day for Minneapolis voters," Glidden said. "It is respecting the democratic process." 

Reach Cristof Traudes at 436-5088, [email protected] or at twitter.com/sctraudes.