This November, how you vote might be on the ballot in St. Paul.

A group is pushing to put a question before voters that asks whether they'd want to use a different system, instant-runoff voting, to pick candidates for mayoral and City Council races.

The method allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. It's controversial, with proponents saying it ensures a candidate wins by a majority and opponents saying it gives people more than one vote.

The city's 15-member Charter Commission will hold a public hearing Monday on the matter.

A vote to put the question on the ballot could happen then, said chairman John Van Hecke, but he's not sure how supportive his colleagues are.

The system would eliminate primaries, and supporters say the method puts more candidates in front of more voters because turnout is higher at general elections.

"It creates a more diverse, active electorate," said Ellen Brown, a campaign coordinator for the Better Ballot Campaign.

Opponents challenge the constitutionality of instant-runoff voting and say it limits debate by cutting back the primaries.

"It puts a blindfold on the voters," said Andy Cilek, president of the Minnesota Voters Alliance. "It puts voters in the position where they wouldn't know whether they'd help or hurt their candidate."

Continuing effort

The voting method requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gains a majority, the lowest candidate is dropped and 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.

Brown's group has been advocating for the change in St. Paul since last year and is gathering signatures to get the question on the ballot. She says that 5,100 names are needed and that her group has about 6,000.

She said the group intends to turn in the names in late May or early June, regardless of the Charter Commission's decision, so it can begin a voter-education campaign.

Minneapolis adopted system

Minneapolis voters adopted the system in 2006, and city officials have been trying to institute it for the 2009 city election. Officials say it's unlikely the system will be ready by then.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance has sued the city. Minnesota's attorney general issued an opinion last year that noted problems with instant-runoff voting but stopped short of calling it unconstitutional.

Other U.S. cities that use the method include Burlington, Vt.; Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco.

Joe Mansky is Ramsey County's elections manager. While his office doesn't have an opinion on the voting method, he said there are some barriers to implementing it.

The county has equipment that works and probably won't be replaced until at least 2011, he said.

Adding instant-runoff voting equipment could cost $1 million, he said, and having different systems in the city and suburbs isn't efficient.

Mansky also noted the lawsuit in Minneapolis. "It might be prudent to let it work itself out," he said.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542