This legislative session, we have missed a great opportunity for innovative, reform-minded Minnesota cities. Despite bipartisan support for ranked-choice voting, the Senate elections committee prevented a hearing of the “local options” bill. This bill would have given cities like ours the flexibility and the tools to switch to RCV.
The bill contained no mandates, and it would have had absolutely no impact on cities uninterested in exploring RCV. But for us and a number of interested cities across our state, it offered two important things: the freedom to give it a try without seeking legislative approval, along with guidelines and structure to ensure smooth, uniform implementation.
It’s that second piece that matters most to Duluth, where citizens are pursuing the potential to bring RCV to the ballot this fall. Last weekend, delegates to the DFL Party’s Seventh District convention passed a resolution supporting RCV, and they did so emphatically — with 74.8 percent of the vote.
This discussion has been a long time coming in the Port City; two years ago, a seven-member task force recommended putting RCV up for consideration by voters. (It’s also worth noting that all four candidates for the Minnesota House seat in District 7A, including DFL endorsee Jennifer Schultz, have declared their support for RCV.) Should Duluthians decide to adopt RCV, the guidelines in the now-dead bill would have been invaluable.
For Falcon Heights, both of the bill’s main provisions are important. Under current law, Falcon Heights, as a non-charter jurisdiction, must spend valuable time, energy and money to secure special legislative clearance if it wants to use RCV. We called this measure the “local control” bill for a reason: The choice should be ours to make. As House author Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, put it: “If Roseville or Red Wing wants to experiment with RCV — great. If their people love it — great. If their people hate it, they can ditch it. That’s it.”
Many legislators, such as Simon and Senate author Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, agree. So does Gov. Mark Dayton. More important, however, is that voters across the state do, as well. We were hopeful that the Legislature, including the Senate elections committee, would have been a willing partner in empowering local governments to explore the possibilities of RCV.
As one of us wrote in a letter to Senate elections committee chairwoman Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, there are many reasons some cities want to pursue RCV: “more civil campaigns, greater voter choice, broader participation, its ability to remove barriers — by eliminating the primary — for students, military voters and other overseas voters.”
We understand it’s likely that some cities don’t want to pursue RCV — and, again, it’s important to be clear that this bill would have changed nothing for them. We seek the statewide framework and guidance this bill would have brought. In the meantime, we’ll continue working with our constituents to explore the innovation of RCV in our respective cities. But next session? We’ll be back.
Pete Lindstrom is mayor of Falcon Heights. Emily Larson is vice president of the Duluth City Council.