Ranked-choice does not disenfranchise, nor does it have inordinate costs.
As a supporter of ranked-choice voting who has followed its implementation in Minneapolis, I may be able to clear up some confusing information that appeared in the Star Tribune recently.
A Feb. 28 article (“Funds for election come up short”) and March 6 commentary (“Ranked-choice does minority voters no favors”) contained inaccuracies that warrant correcting.
The article claimed that “ranked-choice balloting … cost the city five times more than traditional voting.” This is not accurate. The Elections Department spent $1.47 million in 2009, the year of our first ranked-choice (RCV) election. It spent $1.12 million in 2005, our last non-RCV municipal election. That’s an increase of less than one-third.
The article’s assertion appears to be based on a “cost per voter” calculation. But this statistic is affected much more by voter turnout than by actual costs. The cost per voter in the 2011 special election (which used the “traditional” method) was substantially higher than in the 2009 RCV election. And remember, RCV does away with the lowest-turnout elections, nonpartisan primaries, which due to their low turnout also have high costs per voter.
The article also left out information. One of the drivers for more funding for this year is the need to have a contingency fund for a hand count in the unlikely event that voting machines are not certified in time for the election. I expect machines to be certified, and the City Council is committed to working with Hennepin County and the secretary of state’s office to make sure this happens. Additionally, the 2013 budget includes non-RCV related supplementary expenses.
I also want to clear up some confusion that may result from the March 5 opinion piece, which equated “ballot errors” with “disenfranchisement.” They are in no way equal. Disenfranchisement means to deprive someone of the right to vote. Ballot errors include “repeat ranking of the same candidate, skipped ranking with a column left blank as if to vote for none of the choices, and overvotes within a column.”
In every case where a vote was cast in this way, either the voter corrected the ballot or the elections staff was able to determine voter’s intent with respect to the office being counted. Every voter who wanted to cast a vote for a particular race in 2009 was able to do so. If a voter voted more than once within a column, the voting machine alerted the voter, who was then able to fill out a new ballot. If a voter skipped a ranking, their next ranking, if any, was counted. If a voter ranked a certain candidate more than once, their next ranking for a different candidate, if any, was counted.
“Voter error ballots” do not equal disenfranchisement, and the city will make that clearer to the public when reporting results this year. Higher instances of these so-called “errors” could be explained in any number of ways, and going forward they might point out the need for clearer ballot design and better voter education. But any attempt to equate these voter practices with not having a vote counted is wrong.