St. Paul residents debate instant runoff voting

Supporters and opponents of instant runoff voting faced off in St. Paul Wednesday night for their first and only formal public debate.

Instant runoff voting supporters say voters like being able to specify second and third choice candidates for every office on the ballot. But opponents argue it's confusing.

Both sides point to exit polls from San Francisco's 2004 instant runoff election to prove their points. Those polls showed 85 percent of voters said they understood the new system. Chuck Repke, who's leading the opposition to instant runoff voting in St. Paul, says that's not good enough.

"Eighty-five percent understood what they're doing, 15 percent don't understand and we're cheering that on?We find that do be a good thing?" he said. "A voting system that we'd want to bring to St. Paul? That's insane. I don't get it."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Supporters argue instant runoff voting, or IRV, will increase voter participation by eliminating the need for city council and mayoral primaries.

Ellen Brown, who's leading the charge for instant runoff voting in St. Paul, says she's long bemoaned the low voter turnout in primary elections.

"And no matter how much we moan, it doesn't seem like we're going to be able to change it. But with IRV we can eliminate this step and only have one election, when more voters are at the polls."

Opponents argue primary elections increase the quality of debate by allowing voters to focus on the differences between the top two candidates.

Minneapolis holds its first instant runoff voting election on Nov. 3, the same day St. Paul voters will decide whether to switch to the new system.