Republicans at the State Capitol are looking at prohibiting Minneapolis, St. Paul and other Minnesota communities from using ranked-choice voting.
After hearing from one supporter and a dozen people who opposed the measure — including DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon, who said it would nullify the voices of voters who chose the ranked method — a Senate panel approved the prohibition in a party-line vote on Tuesday.
Minneapolis and St. Paul use the ranked system. Other cities, including St. Louis Park and Rochester, are looking into switching to the ranked process for electing mayors and city council members. The legislation would bar new cities from adopting the system but also force cities that adopted it in recent years to abandon it.
“It just confuses voters,” Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, said of ranked voting. He authored the bill and said he prefers a uniform statewide voting system.
Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, eliminates the need for a primary and instead puts all candidates on one ballot. Voters rank them in order of preference. That means it’s not just people’s top picks that matter, but their second and third choices.
Opponents of the system argue St. Paul and Minneapolis have not seen the lower costs, higher turnout and reduced negativity that ranked voting proponents promised. Proponents disagree. They say ranked voting gives more people a voice by eliminating low-turnout local primaries and favoring candidates with the broadest support.
A number of local elected officials spoke out against the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing, saying it infringes on local control of elections.
“This is really about whether or not local government can be trusted to lead their people,” said Michael Wojcik, Rochester City Council member.
Simon would not weigh in on whether ranked voting is a better or worse system. But he noted that it is difficult to change to the ranked system. Statutory cities need to come to the Legislature to “beg for special legislation,” he said. Cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul are ruled by charters — essentially the cities’ constitutions — and have more discretion.
The Twin Cities brought the ranked-choice voting charter amendment to voters. In 2006, Minneapolis residents approved it and St. Paul residents followed in 2009.
“I would hate to see the Legislature set a precedent of undoing or nullifying, in the case of those two cities, a popular vote where the citizens have spoken and they have said they want this system,” Simon said.
Shawn Towle, who led a failed push in St. Paul last year to repeal ranked-choice voting, was the only person to testify in favor of the bill. He said there should not be a “patchwork quilt” of election processes across Minnesota.
The Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee approved the measure in a 5-4 vote, with Republicans in favor and DFLers opposed.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, raised concerns about the timing, as the bill had not met the committee deadline required to progress.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she expects the bill to head to the full Senate for a vote. Kiffmeyer said she agrees with Koran that there is value to having statewide election policies.