Voters in Minneapolis will have their second opportunity this November to rank candidates based on preference. But how many rankings should they get?

The current number is three, but a City Council committee on Thursday took testimony about the implications of increasing it to five or more. The discussion initially arose during an elections committee meeting earlier this week focused on some technical changes to the ranked choice voting process and interpretations of voter intent.

Ranked choice voting, which the city used during a less contentious election in 2009, takes into account voters’ rankings to choose a winner if a candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated after each round – and their supporters’ votes are redistributed based on their rankings – until someone surpasses 50 percent.

FairVote Minnesota, which advocated the adoption of ranked choice voting, pushed for the extra ranking opportunities. Jeanne Massey, the group’s executive director, said more choices results in fewer “exhausted” ballots – ballots that contain only candidates that have already been dropped.

“Three is an artificial cap,” Massey said. “We know that the exhausted ballot pile grows when that limitation exists.”
Three is the most common number of rankings in the Bay Area of California, one of the only other areas in the country that uses ranked choice voting.

But making the change would also affect the design of the ballots, which might have to be extra pages, and voter education, which is going to be formalized in early June.

Council Member Lisa Goodman interjected that the whole debate about increasing the number of rankings made her feel uncomfortable, since several council members are running for mayor (while others are locked in tight re-election races).

“We are five months, six months from an election and we are deciding what the ballot looks like? It feels unethical to me quite frankly,” Goodman said. Council Members Meg Tuthill and Sandy Colvin Roy, both in tough re-election races, said they agreed.

Devin Rice, a member of the city’s charter commission, made a similar pronouncement in an e-mail to the Council earlier this week.

“All thirteen of you are in the middle of an election and are 'players in the game' and now you may seriously contemplate becoming the referee and changing the rules?” Rice wrote. “As I stated yesterday, you don't change election laws a mere 5 months before an election.”

The final decision about how to proceed will be made at tomorrow’s City Council meeting. Unless someone moves to change the number of rankings, only the smaller changes will proceed.