Is instant runoff voting right for Duluth?

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Duluth News Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2010 - 9:36 PM

The City Council may ask voters to weigh in, and give IRV backers a chance to make their case to the public.

The Duluth City Council is considering asking voters if they want to see instant runoff voting in city elections.

Sponsored by council President Jeff Anderson, the resolution would put the question on the ballot this November and would be advisory only.

If it passes, it would still need unanimous support of the city Charter Commission and council to bring instant runoff voting to the polls. Failing that, it would need the voters to approve the system next year.

"I think the people of Duluth should vote on whether they think it's a good idea," Anderson said, "and it gives IRV supporters a chance to make their case."

Those supporters say IRV, which asks voters to rank their choice of candidates rather than pick only one, eliminates the need for primaries and reduces election costs. They also say it assures that winners have a majority of voter support, encourages more third-party candidates, and would make for elections with less mudslinging and more discussion of issues.

Critics of IRV say it's overly complicated, potentially disenfranchises voters and gives some ballots more weight than others.

"It favors the political majority, whoever that may be," said Andy Cilek, head of the Minnesota Voters' Alliance, which opposes IRV.

Cilek notes that many cities and university student bodies that adopted IRV later threw it out.

"It's too difficult for the average person to understand," said Cilek.

Several council members already support IRV in city elections, including Anderson, Dan Hartman and Sharla Gardner. Others, however, say they're not convinced it's a better system.

"It could be very problematic," said City Councilor Jim Stauber.

"I take my first election: there were two empty seats and 13 candidates, and how would that work? I don't blame the IRV supporters, but they didn't seem to know how it would work, either."

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