Duluth voters would be well-advised to vote against the ranked-choice voting (RCV) charter amendment and reject the advice of the Star Tribune Editorial Board (“Duluth should scrap low-turnout primaries,” Sept. 14).
The “prime reason” to adopt RCV is to eliminate low-turnout primary elections, according to the Star Tribune editorial. That is not a compelling argument in light of two academic studies that conclude that RCV elections skew the electoral balance in favor of affluent, white and well-educated voters.
Shortly after the 2013 Minneapolis election in which RVC was used, Profs. Larry Jacobs and Joanne Miller of the University of Minnesota analyzed the election results (“Ranked-choice voting: By the data, still flawed,” Feb. 13, 2014). In that article, Jacobs and Miller concluded that RCV “leaves open the well-documented voting gap that favors white voters and the affluent. That populist conclusion arises from careful statistical analyses of votes in the Minneapolis election and the evidence it yields of differences in participation between communities of color and the poor vs. their white and affluent counterparts.”
The Jacobs-Miller analysis studied and compared the most affluent wards to the least affluent and the wards with the highest number of white voters to those with the highest number of minority voters. The study found statistically significant data when comparing these respective groups’ use of RCV. Basically, Jacobs and Miller found that the voters in the more-affluent wards used all three ranked-choice votes more than voters in the less-affluent parts of the city. The Jacobs-Miller report also showed that the number of “spoiled ballots” was nearly twice as high in the minority-dominated wards as it was in the affluent wards. The same findings held true when comparing the wards with the most number of white voters to those wards with the highest number of minority voters. My take on this report is that RCV is great if you are white, well-off and have lots of time to study every race you have the chance to vote in. It’s a system Plato would love and most democrats in ancient Athens would hate.
Just last week, the Jacobs-Miller findings were validated in yet another academic study done by Prof. Jason McDaniel of San Francisco State University, according to a report on the school’s website.
McDaniel’s analysis, recently published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, studied racial group voter-turnout rates in five San Francisco mayoral elections from 1995 to 2011. The 2007 and 2011 elections used RCV ballots; the 1995-2003 elections used the traditional two-round, primary runoff system.
The analysis revealed a significant relationship between RCV and decreased turnout among black and white voters, younger voters and voters who lacked a high school education. The report found that RCV did not have a significant impact on more experienced voters, who had the highest levels of education and interest in the political process. This finding is very similar to the Jacobs-Miller findings.
According to McDaniel, the more complicated ballots required by the RCV process might have caused voter confusion and ballot error. His detailed analysis suggests that what Jacobs and Miller found from the 2013 Minneapolis election is true in RCV elections both in San Francisco and Minneapolis, two of the only 20 cities in the U.S. that use RCV. That is, the process of candidate evaluation required to rank-order multiple candidates is also more difficult for some voters to understand and may be more challenging than choosing one preferred candidate.
In short, I conclude from the two studies that a white, affluent and highly educated voter (a demographic that perfectly fits the Star Tribune’s editorial readership) utilizes RCV exceedingly well. Other voter groups, particularly minority group members, the less educated and the less affluent, do not benefit from RCV. If Duluth voters want to put more political power into the hands of the affluent, vote for RCV next Tuesday. If, on the other hand, Duluthians believe elections should remain democratic and for all voters regardless of race, income or educational attainment, they should vote to keep the elections understandable and simple by voting no on RCV.
Brian F. Rice is an attorney in Minneapolis.