Some St. Louis Park elected leaders and community advocates are pushing for the city to adopt ranked-choice voting for its next local election and become the first Minnesota suburb to make the switch.
The city’s Charter Commission, which recommends changes to the home rule charter, began serious discussion of the proposal earlier this year. The commission plans to discuss how to get public feedback on the issue at its next meeting Jan. 10, and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council in 2018.
It’s not the first time ranked-choice voting has been discussed in St. Louis Park. The council has explored the topic numerous times since 2006, according to city documents.
But the discussion has always been tabled, in part because voting tabulation equipment was not as reliable at the time, Council Member Sue Sanger said. That’s no longer an issue, she said, pointing to the speed with which votes now are counted in the Twin Cities.
“It has worked very well in many cities across the country, including in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” she said.
Local ranked-choice voting advocates, including Sanger, believe that making the switch will bring several benefits to the city’s election process. They include higher voter turnout, a more diverse candidate pool and a more educated voter base.
The city already took what seemed like the first step toward ranked-choice voting earlier this year when it eliminated municipal primaries for council and mayoral elections.
Having ranked-choice voting would ensure that candidates are elected with a majority of support from registered voters, advocates say.
“If any city eliminates the primary but does not [implement] ranked-choice voting in any multi-candidate election, you run the risk that the person who wins the election will have a plurality but not a majority,” said Sanger, who is leaving the council when her term is up next month.
Some of the 15 members of the Charter Commission are not yet sold on the idea.
“There’s a broad array of feelings about ranked-choice voting, ranging from full support to support assuming there’s a public engagement process,” said Sara Maaske, the commission chairwoman. “Then there’s a couple of people that really don’t feel it’s needed.”
Maaske, who has worked on several campaigns and ran for the City Council in 2015, said she is looking for feedback from the public before she comes out in support of the idea.
“I am a strong advocate for increasing voter turnout, I am a strong advocate for getting more people to run for office,” she said. “I am not convinced that ranked-choice voting is the only solution.”
Ranked-choice voting is supported by several voters rights groups, most notably FairVote Minnesota and local branches of the League of Women Voters. League officials hosted a news conference at St. Louis Park City Hall in early December, when they encouraged the commission and council to make the switch.
Supporters hope that ranked-choice voting is adopted by St. Louis Park in 2018 so it’s in place for the following year’s municipal elections.
Only cities with home rule charters are able to switch to ranked-choice voting. City managers from some surrounding cities, including Bloomington and Hopkins, said they are not discussing changing their election methods.