Charter commission to head up ranked-choice educational campaignRed Wing voters won't make their decision on ranked-choice voting for another 22 months. But the Red Wing Charter Commission is already gearing up to spread the word about the looming referendum.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing voters won't make their decision on ranked-choice voting for another 22 months. But the Red Wing Charter Commission is already gearing up to spread the word about the looming referendum.
On Tuesday, the Charter Commission began planning a public education campaign that will take place in the months leading up to the 2012 general election, when voters will choose whether Red Wing should overhaul its traditional election system in favor of ranked-choice.
"We've got a year and a half but that goes by in a hurry," said Charter Commission Chair Kent Speight.
During Tuesday's meeting, the commission assigned three board members -- Evan Brown, Ann Seymour and Don Regelman -- to a subcommittee tasked with coming up with a preliminary strategy, budget and a timeline for the campaign.
The sub-committee is set to come back within 90 days to present its work to the full board.
City Council voted Monday to place a ranked-choice referendum on the ballot. The Charter Commission had unanimously endorsed ranked-choice in November and then had asked council to approve an overhaul.
Council members decided instead to leave that decision to voters.
"This is potentially a big change to our charter and it's a complicated issue," Council member Lisa Bayley said. Council charged the commission with leading a public education campaign.
In organizing the campaign, commission members said they would look to partner with the Red Wing League of Women Voters and FairVote Minnesota -- a ranked-choice advocacy group. FairVote's executive director Jeanne Massey attended numerous commission meetings last year and provided the commission with several reports.
Given that the commission has endorsed ranked-choice and is looking to partner with its advocates, can it be relied upon to deliver a balanced educational campaign showing both the arguments for and against ranked-choice?
Speight said yes.
"I think we can be real honest and factually right telling people the pros and cons," he said. "We think the pros outweigh the cons, but you make your own decision."
Asked if he thought the commission should invite critics of ranked-choice to speak during the campaign, Speight said that was a good idea. He added, however, it would be up to the sub-committee to decide.
@Sub Heads: Costs and machinery
The education campaign cannot focus solely on the ideological issues at hand, said City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann. She said practical issues must also be addressed.
Kuhlmann noted the city shares election equipment with Goodhue County that is not capable of counting run-offs. The equipment is fairly new and there are no plans to buy new equipment in the near future.
That means if the city were to adopt ranked-choice, run-off votes would have to be hand-counted.
"There are some real costs we have to talk about here," Kuhlmann said.
While ranked-choice can save some communities money because it eliminates the need for a primary election, that wouldn't be the case in Red Wing.
Because Red Wing holds its elections the same years the state does, it would still need to hold primary elections for those races.
@Sub Heads: The arguments
In ranked-choice elections, voters rank candidates by preference. When there isn't a majority winner a run-off occurs that counts second-place votes. Run-offs continue until a candidate is deemed to have won a majority.
Proponents of ranked choice say the system ensures a majority winner always takes office.
They also argue 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.
"It ensures a little bit better quality of representative government," Speight said.
But not everyone agrees.
Council member Dan Bender argued Monday the system is flawed because runoffs fail to count all second-place votes. Massey argued that was not the case.
Bender quipped back, "I see how it works. I just don't like it."
There are also advocacy groups on the other side of the fence, including the Minnesota Voter's Alliance.
Andy Cilek, the group's executive director, says arguments for ranked-choice are a sham and the system confuses voters, not empower them.
"It totally dilutes the role of a voter," he told the R-E this week. As the commission reviewed the merits of ranked-choice last year, Cilek attended one meeting where he gave a presentation.
Red Wing is not the first city to consider ranked-choice. Many others have already adopted the system.
Proponents have mentioned cities like Minneapolis, where the city's conversion to ranked-choice was largely a success, according to City Council member Elizabeth Glidden.
Meanwhile, critics have pointed to cities like Burlington, Vt., which adopted ranked-choice only later to revert back to the traditional system.
St. Cloud State University conducted a survey of the Minneapolis' registered voters to gauge their feelings toward ranked-choice after the 2009 election.
The survey also found a plurality of Minneapolis residents surveyed -- 41 percent -- approved of ranked-choice. Meanwhile, 27 percent preferred the traditional system and 27 percent were indifferent and 5 percent didn't know how they felt. It is available at: http://www.stcloudstate.edu/scsusurvey/news.asp