Instant-runoff voting wins a round

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2009 - 9:48 PM

An opposition group vowed to fight on after a judge ruled that the system can be used in Minneapolis this year.

A group opposing instant-runoff voting in Minneapolis is pledging to fight on despite a Hennepin County District judge's ruling that allowed the new voting method to go ahead this year.

Minnesota Voters Alliance founder Andy Cilek said the group will ask the state Supreme Court for an "expedited review" of the decision by District Judge George McGunnigle.

In a 29-page ruling, the judge rejected a request from the alliance to stop instant-runoff voting, commonly called IRV. In the same ruling, McGunnigle granted a request from the city and FairVote Minnesota to dismiss the alliance's lawsuit. The judge ruled on competing summary judgment motions, meaning he made the decision without a trial.

"The court finds that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that IRV causes any citizen to be deprived of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws," the judge wrote.

McGunnigle issued the ruling Tuesday, and the court released it Wednesday.

The group's suit challenged the constitutionality of the city's instant-runoff voter charter amendment, arguing the method infringes upon an individual's right to vote, right of association and due process.

Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly approved the charter change in 2006, and officials have been preparing to use it in the 2009 city election.

The method requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gains a majority (50 percent plus 1 vote), the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped.

Then 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.

Praise for the decision

Minneapolis spokesman Matt Laible said the city is pleased with the ruling, but realizes "it's just one step in a long process that might continue for some time."

Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, strongly praised the decision.

"Minnesota took a giant step toward better elections and a stronger democracy," she said.

Cilek is confident of his chances on appeal, putting them at 95 percent. "The Supreme Court's going to see the decision by McGunnigle is completely flawed," Cilek said.

But David Schultz, who teaches government ethics and election law at Hamline University, said the odds are against Cilek's group because it will be difficult to prove the error in the ruling. "The big challenge now is to make sure people know how to cast ballots in November," Schultz said.

Massey noted the decision moved IRV forward in St. Paul, too. The St. Paul City Council previously voted to uphold a citizen's petition to place IRV on the ballot after resolution of the lawsuit in Minneapolis.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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