If only we could elect a governor with majority support

Jeanne Massey
Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota.
Submitted photo

Our next governor will likely take office without the support of a majority of Minnesota voters. And if that happens, it will be the fourth consecutive time: Not since Arne Carlson's 1994 election has the governor's race yielded a majority winner.

Is this good for Minnesota?

As it happens, Gov. Carlson is one of many respected Minnesota leaders -- of all political stripes -- who share our conviction that it's not, and that the time has come for reform. There's a better way, a fairer, smarter, cheaper and cleaner way, to elect our leaders. Ranked Choice Voting is offers a proven path to elections that are more decisive and less divisive -- and a path to more effective governance.

Acrimony and polarization, as familiar as they've become, are not necessarily intrinsic to politics and policymaking. They're fueled by our winner-take-all plurality system, which so often empowers a small slice of the electorate at one end of the political spectrum -- and invites bitter opposition from the other. The result? Gridlock in government, disenchantment in voters.

By contrast, Ranked Choice Voting (a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting) fosters consensus-building, campaigning on substantive issues, and better policymaking. In races with more than two candidates, RCV eliminates the "spoiler" dynamic and the need for tactical voting: settling for one's second-favorite candidate in order to prevent one's least-favorite candidate from winning.

Under RCV, voters choose the candidate they prefer -- as is done on a traditional ballot -- but can also designate a second choice, and additional choices if they wish. In single-seat elections, if a candidate receives a majority of votes in the first counting, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and his or her ballots are divided among the remaining candidates based on those voters' second choices. The process repeats, if necessary, until one candidate gains a majority of support.

In municipal nonpartisan elections, RCV eliminates the need for costly, low-turnout primaries. In current state partisan elections, RCV can be used in both the primary and general elections to ensure majority winners without the need for costly, low-turnout runoff elections.

Ranked Choice Voting isn't perfect; no voting system is. But as a growing number of U.S. cities -- including Minneapolis and San Francisco, and soon Berkeley, Oakland and St. Paul -- will attest, it's a clear and workable improvement over the status quo. As the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg recently wrote, "The real world, where voting actually occurs, is where IRV [or RCV] has proved its mettle. IRV is all over the place, from Sydney to San Francisco ... and for good reasons."

And while foes of reform are vocal and persistent, their fear-mongering claims have proven unfounded: The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that RCV upholds the constitutional principle of one person, one vote, paving the way for Minneapolis to use RCV. That city's rollout of RCV for municipal elections was a resounding success, with 95 percent of voters calling it "easy to use." That experience helped convert onetime RCV opponent Rick Stafford, former DFL Party chair, into a strong supporter.

"It's a new day and voters want more choices," Stafford said at the party's state central committee meeting this month. In renewing its support for RCV, the DFL is part of a broad reform coalition that also includes the Independence Party, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party.

Indeed, Minnesota voters do want more choices: Ours is a state in which two-party elections are becoming the exception, not the rule. Polling indicates that more than 70 percent of Minnesotans would consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate. Moreover, we're an increasingly diverse state; as shown in San Francisco, RCV boosts participation among historically underrepresented voters and gives greater voice to communities of color. Ranked Choice Voting will help make government more inclusive and more broadly representative.

Minnesota has a long, proud tradition of informed and civil political engagement. Meaningful electoral reform would help restore some of the substance and civility that's been missing in our political debates these past several years. At the same time, a move to RCV would bring our voting system into the 21st century. It's a time of tremendous challenges, fiscal and otherwise, in which new ideas are needed in government more than ever.

Our electoral system has evolved in many important ways over the past two centuries - think of the 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - and the time has come for it to evolve again. We can't implement Ranked Choice Voting statewide in time for this fall's election, but we can work toward reform now and accelerate the adoption of RCV for future elections and make Minnesota elections more competitive, participatory, civil and representative. Whichever way we're planning to vote this November, and regardless of the outcome, that's a goal we can all endorse.

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Jeanne Massey is executive director of FairVote Minnesota, which says it "works for better democracy through public education and advocacy. Our focus is on progressive voting systems that lead to greater competitiveness, better representation and more participation in elections."

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