Vote on ranked-choice delayedRed Wing Charter Commission will wait to see if voters favor a switch to a ranked-choice voting format for city elections.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing Charter Commission will wait to see if voters favor a switch to a ranked-choice voting format for city elections.
While still intrigued by the alternative voting system that asks voters to rank candidates by preference, the commission — which reviews and proposes amendments to Red Wing’s charter — has decided against placing a ranked-choice referendum question on this year’s election ballot.
“I just think, practically speaking, there’s not enough time to put it on the ballot this year,” Commissioner Chris Schrader said.
Commissioners said it would be necessary to inform residents about ranked-choice before asking them to vote it up or down, but concluded at their meeting Thursday that it would be foolhardy to try to squeeze an educational campaign in before November.
Nor has the commission given ranked-choice its endorsement. Commissioners have said while they’re interested by the system’s potential benefits they want to take time to learn more and to weigh their options.
In a ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates by preference, which proponents say ensures a majority winner. When no candidate receives a majority of votes, those finishing last are eliminated from the race. Ballots ranking eliminated candidates first are then redistributed to the remaining candidates in a run-off based on voters’ second and third preferences.
Commissioners have been looking into ranked-choice for the past six months, and have heard arguments for and, at their most recent meeting, against the system.
Andy Cilek is executive director of Minnesota Voters Alliance, a group that denounces ranked-choice. He told the commission Thursday the system would not save Red Wing money, nor increase voter participation, as its supporters say it would, and could even disenfranchise some voters.
“It’s a system of voting that puts blindfolds on voters,” Cilek said, arguing the system can create confusion.
Several commissioners expressed skepticism toward Cilek’s arguments and statements. They noted that a number of Cilek’s concerns only arise in multi-seat elections, which the city doesn’t hold.
Some commissioners did, however, restate their own concerns about adopting ranked-choice in Red Wing.
They pointed out while ranked-choice saves some communities money because it eliminates the need for a primary election, that wouldn’t hold true in Red Wing. Red Wing holds its elections the same year as the state does and the city would need to hold primary elections for state races, regardless if it adopted ranked-choice.
There was also discussion of the fact Red Wing’s election equipment isn’t able to count second- and third-place votes and if a run-off were required to determine a majority winner in a ranked-choice election it would have to be done by hand count at an additional cost to the city.
Furthermore buying new equipment in the short term would be an extra expense, given Red Wing’s voting equipment is fairly new and is expected to last another eight to 10 years.
But there are still upsides to ranked-choice, some commissioners said.
Commissioner Kent Speight said the system would increase voter turnout.
For example, Speight said, the system encourages participation among supporters of third-party candidates, who in the current system might be discouraged from voting for their favorite candidate because they doubt their chance of winning. In a ranked-choice election they could rank their candidate first and still potentially impact the election in the way they intended because of their second and third picks.
On Thursday the commission also heard from Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden, who was at the forefront of her city’s conversion to ranked-choice. She said Minneapolis’ switch was largely a success.
St. Cloud State University, on the Minneapolis’ behalf, conducted a survey of the city’s registered voters to gauge their feelings toward ranked-choice.
According to the university’s survey, a plurality of Minneapolis residents surveyed, 41 percent, approved of ranked-choice, 27 percent preferred the traditional system, 27 percent were indifferent and 5 percent didn’t know how they felt about it.
If the commission were to endorse ranked-choice, there are two ways a conversion could be approved. City Council could usher in the new system with a unanimous vote, or the switch could be approved by referendum vote during an election.
The next regular election is in 2012, but the referendum could take place during a special election.
Some commissioners said they’d be hesitant to call for a special election solely for the consideration of ranked-choice given the city is facing a budget crunch.
But Red Wing may be forced to hold a special election in 2011 if current Mayor John Howe is successful in his bid to become a state senator.
Commissioners said they will continue to study the issue. Speight told the R-E he’d like to see the commission make a decision on ranked-choice by this fall.
Other commissioners, however, were hesitant to set a timetable.