Fred Matamoros • News Tribune/MCT,

Ranked-choice voting gives you a valuable tool, so use it

  • Article by: Erik Larson
  • October 31, 2013 - 4:52 PM


The Star Tribune Editorial Board dropped the ball. Unlike with their endorsements in the mayoral race, the editors did not provide ranked endorsements for Minneapolis City Council races, leaving voters with no framework to make three ranked choices for council members.

We voters should understand that with ranked-choice voting, we can use our choices to amplify our voices by identifying our top three preferences.

A first-preference vote expresses our top priorities. Second and third choices can express our preferences among the other candidates. When we don’t use all our preferences, the full voice of our vote may be wasted. And if we select our first preference based solely on who we think might win, we’re voting our fears rather than our hopes.

When voters use their first-choice votes to express what is important to them — whether a position on a key issue, important qualities of a representative or the conduct of a particular candidate’s campaign — their vote carries a message. If these voters’ first-choice candidate is eliminated and their second-choice vote is counted, the beneficiary of those second-choice votes receives a message: “The priorities of those voters should loom large on my agenda.”

The Editorial Board reduced its endorsement analysis of most ward elections into two-person horse races. In doing so, it shirked its duty to foster voters’ meaningful consideration of their voting opportunities.

The board’s practice perpetuates fear-based politics, precluding voters — and leaders — from seeing the potential of ranked voting to allow us to learn from one another, even when we are competing.

The contested Third Ward election serves as an interesting case study. There are four candidates on the ballot: Jacob Frey, Kristina Gronquist, Diane Hofstede and Michael Katch.

Each candidate ran a campaign with a clear focus, offering different priorities for the city and the Third Ward. Media attention has highlighted further differences in policies. Because voters can rank their top three choices, they can use the ballot to express their preferences for each candidate relative to the other candidates.

Imagine that a hypothetical Third Ward voter concludes that it is time for a change, as the Editorial Board did. A winner-take-all (non-ranked-choice vote) system would encourage this voter to select the one nonincumbent candidate who she feels has the best chance of getting the most votes. In other words, she would vote based not on what she really desires in government, but on what she speculates other voters will do.

Where does this hypothetical voter get information on how others will vote? Too often, from horse-race coverage that focuses on how much money a candidate has raised or spent.

The Editorial Board also seems to have fallen victim to using money for measuring how effective candidates are in building coalitions and working with others. In endorsing Frey over Hofstede, it wrote “smart collaborative public-policy decisions will make all the difference in the city’s future. This is particularly true in the Third Ward.”

The editors did not discuss the skills and experience that actually make somebody effective at working with others or building coalitions. Instead, they contrasted Frey’s ability to run a political campaign with Hofstede’s tenure on the council — two very different settings that require distinct skills. The editors failed to consider other relevant experience in collaborative decisionmaking and coalition-building that the four candidates have.

Newspaper editorials provide the opportunity to advance public understanding and democracy. The Star Tribune Editorial Board failed to adapt its analysis to the true, democratic possibilities that we have under ranked-choice voting. It does not deserve the public’s vote of confidence in this process.

Instead, all Minneapolis voters should use ranked-choice voting to its full potential. By making more nuanced, authentic decisions, we can send city leaders messages about our real priorities.


Erik Larson, associate professor of sociology at Macalester College, lives in the Third Ward of Minneapolis and is the treasurer for Kristina Gronquist. The views in this article represent only his personal views.

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