St. Paul voters to get instant runoff question in November

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2009 - 11:28 PM

City Council voted to put the measure on the ballot and OK'd $82 million in bonding projects to go to the next legislative session.

Despite a lengthy grammar debate, the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved putting a question on the November ballot that will ask whether voters want to change the way they elect city officials.

It was a follow through on a promise made last year to advocates of instant-runoff voting (IRV) that if the method was deemed constitutional in Minneapolis, the council would put it on the ballot.

The Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that it was.

More than 5,300 people signed a petition last year to hold a referendum in St. Paul on adopting IRV, but the council refused to put it on the ballot because the city attorney said it probably was unconstitutional. The council passed a resolution at the time saying it would reconsider based on the outcome of the Minneapolis case.

"The council members did what they were required to do, and they did it unanimously," said John Hottinger, a board member of IRV advocacy group FairVote Minnesota. "They should be thanked for that."

In instant-runoff voting, also called ranked-choice voting, voters will rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gains a majority, the candidate with the least amount of support is dropped and the second-place votes cast by supporters of that candidate are added to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gains a majority.

Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky has outlined potential problems with the system, including higher costs, lack of certified voting equipment and different procedures because county and school board elections wouldn't use instant-runoff voting. IRV would be used only for City Council and mayoral elections.

The general election, with the IRV measure on the ballot, will be Nov. 3.

Other council action

Council members approved a ranked list of six projects to compete for bond money during the next legislative session.

The projects, in order, are:

•Como Zoo renovations, $11 million. Money would go to design, build and equip a new gorilla habitat.

•Arts Partnership expansion of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, $17.5 million. The money would go toward an 1,100-seat concert hall.

•Asian Pacific Cultural Center construction, $5 million. Money would be used for the renovation of 65,000 square feet in part of the old Hamm's Brewery complex on the East Side.

•New municipal ballpark, $25 million. Money would go toward building a new 7,500-seat ballpark that would serve as home field for the St. Paul Saints minor league team. Lowertown is a potential location.

•University Avenue street-scape, $20 million. Money would go toward planting trees, improving lighting and storm water control along University Avenue when the Central Corridor light-rail line is built.

•Pedestrian bridge replacement over Interstate 94, $3 million. Money would be used to rebuild bridges at Aldine and Mackubin streets.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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