MInneapolis: Instant-runoff voting rules to be adopted

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2008 - 12:49 AM

But Minneapolis council members are at odds over what to do when a voter skips a ranking for a candidate.

The Minneapolis City Council is slated to adopt an ordinance for instant-runoff voting today that goes against the advice of the city's top election official and a state advisory group on a key point.

Instant-runoff voting was approved by voters in a 2006 charter referendum. It allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference for city elections. Generally, the weakest candidate is dropped in each round of vote counting, and other choices made by supporters of each dropped candidate are added to surviving candidates until one hits the threshold needed to win.

The full council discussed the proposed ordinance in committee Thursday. Voters mandated the council to try to implement the change in elections next year, but Election Director Cindy Reichert has said that's unlikely unless votes are counted by hand, which could take days.

The dispute Thursday arose over how to handle situations where a voter skips a ranking. For example, a voter could rank one candidate as first choice, skip a second choice and rank another candidate as a third choice.

The council adopted on an 8-3 vote a proposal by Council Member Cam Gordon that would move the third and subsequent choices up to fill the skipped choice. The ordinance as proposed would have thrown out any choices made after the skipped ballot.

Reichert opposes the Gordon approach. She said election judges traditionally are reluctant to guess voter intent. In a three-person race where one person was ranked first and another last, the voter may strongly oppose the third choice, and moving the third ranking up would increase the chances that candidate could be elected, she said.

A task group convened by the Minnesota secretary of state's office rejected advancing lower-ranked candidates when there is a skip, preferring that the voter be automatically notified of the skip when submitting a ballot.

"Minnesota does not have any precedence for allocating a vote where the voter's intention is not known," said Beth Fraser of the secretary's office. She said the choice is up to the council.

Gordon argued for including as many choices as possible from a voter, rather than rejecting some of them as an error. He said several jurisdictions that already allow voters to rank their choices allow choices to be moved up in cases of a skip. Supporters of ranked voting also favor the Gordon approach.

Council President Barbara Johnson, who opposes ranked voting, disagreed. "We read the voter's mind and we make up the voter's mind. This is just stunning," she said. She, Lisa Goodman and Sandra Colvin Roy opposed the Gordon amendment.

The proposed ordinance was adopted on Thursday by the Council Elections Committee without a public hearing, which is not required. The council also plans today to authorize a request for proposals due by Aug. 1 for voting equipment for the new system.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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