A Hennepin County district court's bright green light for instant runoff voting may not quite clear the way for its use in the Minneapolis city election this year. More maneuvering, legal and otherwise, is possible from the determined and well-funded forces in this state that thrive when elections can be won with as little as 37 percent of the vote (that was Gov. Jesse Ventura's margin in 1998). IRV opponents see voting by rank-order preference, and sorting the second-choices until one candidate passes the 50-percent-plus-1 threshhold, as a threat to their hegemony.
Nevertheless, District Judge George McGunnigle's clear summary judgment ruling should give those opponents pause. He dispatched all of their legal objections with apparent ease, and allowed that in a democracy, much weight must be given the will of the people in matters such as voting method. Minneapolis voters approved the use of instant-runoff voting in 2006 by roughly a 2-1 margin.
Watching Minneapolis use instant-runoff voting in one of its characteristically complicated elections should be instructive, for the whole state. Advocates of instant-runoff voting claim numerous advantages for the method, not least the greater campaign civility that should arise when candidates seek not only first-place but second-place votes. But the difficulty of instructing voters to vote in 1-2-3 order ought not be minimized. The recent U.S. Senate recount revealed that a surprising number of voters are already having trouble simply filling in ovals. The Minneapolis experience should help policymakers more clearly see how voters would handle an IRV conversion.