Democracy is in peril. From a system that thwarts the popular vote, to unprecedented levels of political polarization, to growing cynicism and apathy, to big money and special interests, to calculated attempts to suppress the vote, the whole notion of democracy as we know it is at risk.
That’s why we read with chagrin the recent editorial counterpoint by Shawn Towle deriding Ranked Choice Voting (“Ranked voting is the rankest way to vote,” Dec. 15). RCV not only is proven to help mitigate many problems threatening our democracy, but it’s also a system that’s widely popular among seniors, people of color and those who speak English as a second language.
Towle’s disingenuous and paternalistic expressions of “concern” about people of color are nothing more than a veil to protect the status quo — and a distraction from our focus on important issues facing our communities.
Here are the facts:
• People of color can count to 3. And for those who need proof, here goes:
1) In the most recent RCV election in Minneapolis, the 2013 citywide mayoral contest, exit polling by Edison Research showed that a whopping 85 percent of voters found RCV simple to use, including 82 percent of people of color; 88 percent ranked their ballots in the citywide mayoral race; and more than two-thirds were familiar with RCV before going to the polls. The effective ballot rate was 99.95 percent, meaning that virtually every voter filled out his or her ballot correctly and had their votes counted.
2) In the most recent RCV race in 2015 in Ward 2 in St. Paul: 83 percent of Ward 2 voters — across all age and socio-economic groups — found RCV simple to use; 73 percent ranked their ballots, and 82 percent were familiar with RCV before voting.
3) Similar rates of understanding and familiarity are seen in cities that use RCV across the country. So let’s put to rest the racist assertion that people of color have an especially difficult time voting using RCV.
• RCV gives everyone an equal voice. Primary drop-off rates hit communities of color disproportionately hard. By eliminating the need for expensive and poorly attended municipal primaries, RCV increases political participation and gives equal voice to historically underrepresented voters.
This simple change is already producing more diverse outcomes here just as it has in California’s Bay Area, where RCV has been in use for more than a decade: In 2013, Minneapolis elected its first Somali-American, Latina, and Hmong city councilors, resulting in the city’s most diversely represented council ever. In the same year, St. Paul elected its first Hmong city councilor under RCV.
• Turnout is trending up in RCV races.
While voter participation trends down across the nation, a competitive race under RCV helps reverse this. Turnout for the 2015 St. Paul Ward 2 City Council race was six percent higher than in 2011, and was the ward’s highest turnout for a municipal election in a decade. In the 2013 Minneapolis election, turnout citywide was more than 80,000 — the highest for a municipal election in 12 years.
• Voters don’t want to see a repeal of RCV, they want to see an expansion of it.
More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Minneapolis voters and 70 percent of Ward 2 St. Paul voters want to continue to use RCV in future municipal elections. Sixty-one percent in both cities would like to do what voters in Maine just did: adopt RCV for state-level elections.
• RCV upholds one person, one vote.
We recommend Towle look over the 2009 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that unanimously upholds the constitutionality of RCV under the principle of one person, one vote.
• RCV produces candidates with the broadest support.
RCV compels candidates to campaign toward a majority. As to the concern that RCV does not produce majority winners, the winner — in a single-seat race — is always the candidate with the majority of continuing ballots in the final round.
Though we may all support different candidates in next year’s municipal elections, we’re united in the belief that RCV promotes campaigning that’s more respectful, issue-based and inclusive. In a system where candidates must seek second-choice votes to win, they tend to focus on their own strengths and ideas instead of tearing down their opponents. They are also compelled to step outside their base and talk to voters they might have ignored under the old system. RCV fosters coalition-building and a more meaningful political conversation. And in the long run, it yields leadership that’s much more reflective of the whole electorate.
We’re proud to stand on the front lines of voting reform in Minnesota, and we’re excited to show the rest of the country, next November, the way to healthier and ultimately more inclusive politics.
Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, is a member of the Minnesota House. Javier Morillo, of St. Paul, is president of SEIU Local 26. This article was also submitted on behalf of Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis; Kim Ellison, a Minneapolis School Board member; Siyad Abdullahi, of Minneapolis, a health care entrepreneur; Jorge Saavedra, of Golden Valley, an attorney, and Sen. Melissa Franzen, DFL-Edina.