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Minneapolis ranked-choice voting could give independent candidates a new way to attract voters

minneapolis skyline
Courtesy of MnDOT
Ranked-choice voting may be a non-Democrat's best hope for capturing the mayoralty of the Mill City.

Few would bet against a DFLer winning the Minneapolis mayor’s race in November.

Cam Winton
Cam Winton

But with ranked-choice voting, the odds have improved some for independent candidate Cam Winton, who has referred to himself as a moderate Republican and whose platform pushes such conservative policies as improving the business climate and the efficiency of city services.

The city's ranked-choice voting uses a nonpartisan ballot ranking that allows a voter to choose a first, second, and third preference for mayor. As Community Voices contributor Jeffrey Peterson explained on MinnPost last month:

“In a single-seat election, if no candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus one) of first choices, the least popular candidate is eliminated and his or her ballots get reallocated to remaining candidates based on their voters’ next choices. This process continues until one candidate earns a majority of support.” 

“That’s an advantage to a Republican or independent,” observes Walter Rockenstein, the Republican City Council member who represented the city's 11h Ward from 1974 to 1983 and now supports mayoral candidate Jackie Cherryhomes, a former City Council president. “It allows a voter to say, ‘I don’t have to, quote, throw away my vote away for an independent.’ ”

Former City Council Member Steve Minn, an independent, agrees, up to a point.

“With instant runoff voting, the voters are really empowered to pick a candidate they like,” he said.  “You can pick your candidate of choice and a safe candidate and not waste your vote.”

Where a candidate like Winton falls short, Minn opines, is being, thus far, unknown.  “Instant runoff is name recognition, not party affiliation,” Minn said. Furthermore, “the second- and third-place votes tend to follow the trend of the top vote.”

In the current field of mayoral candidates, Cherryhomes and the three current City Council members — Don SamuelsGary Schiff, and Betsy Hodges — have established credentials as city officials. And Mark Andrew is a former Hennepin County commissioner. Their names offer a comfort level that could persuade a voter to pick three from a familiar field.   

But Winton sees ranked-choice voting as a plus, and a big one.

“It’s an absolute game-changer,” he said. “Ranked-choice voting is a wonderful development for someone who wants to bring fresh thinking,” he said. “It enables someone like to me to build coalitions across the political spectrum.”

Rockenstein believes such coalition-building is doable but difficult.

“The traditional Republican Party has gone so far to the right, it has little or no appeal in the city of Minneapolis,” he said. “If I were running today, I wouldn’t carry a Republican label.”

The last Minneapolis elected official who did is Denny Schulstad, the retired brigadier general who, as part of his LinkedIn profile, states he is “the only Republican endorsed member of the council for the past 25 years.”

Schulstad left the council in 1997 and closed the brief chapter of Republican representation in the city of Minneapolis. In recent history, only five other council members, including Rockenstein, served as card-carrying Republican members.

There were never more than four Republicans at one time in service and, other than former radio host Barbara Carlson, the names of Charlie Hoyt, Parker Trostel and Sally Howard are not readily recognizable today.

“You are alone,” Rockenstein recalled. “And that can wear on you, because you spend an enormous amount of time forging coalitions.”

According to Rockenstein, to succeed in such an effort, Winton would need to attract what’s left of the moderate Republicans in Minneapolis and then a large percentage of the true independents, plus a chunk of Democrat voters who would find his platform appealing enough to give him a second or third placement on their ballots.

Winton said that’s the direction he’s heading, and he claims his support cuts across partisan lines.

He notes that his treasurer is well-known and respected DFLer Ashwin Madia, an attorney and Iraq war veteran who ran against Congressman Erik Paulsen in 2010.

While Winton welcomes partisan support, he shuns partisan endorsement.

“I will not seek or accept the endorsement from any party,” he said. “If anyone tried to give me an endorsement, I would respectfully decline it.”

Independent Minn, who in the past belonged to the Independence Party and the Reform Party, dismissed the value of endorsement for any mayoral candidate. “In today’s world, it’s just about impossible to marshal a party system, so you build your campaign around a candidate,” he said.

And, with the new world of ranked-choice voting, a campaign is not a win-or-lose proposition. Now, a Minneapolis candidate can present himself or herself as a viable No. 2 or 3 for a voter who might want to hedge a bet.

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Comments (8)

Apples and oranges

This is a story suffering from a kind of bipolar syndrome. The implication from the headline is that substantial numbers of Minneapolis voters WANT to move to the right, and that candidate Winton, in combination with ranked-choice voting, would provide them with the means to do that. But much of what follows the headline is about the name-recognition problem that Mr. Winton has to overcome. He may see ranked-choice voting as a big plus – I like the idea myself – but it doesn’t strike me as a cure-all for the name-recognition problem he faces. Most new candidates, regardless of poltiical affliation or voting system, have to overcome that name recognition issue.

“The traditional Republican Party has gone so far to the right, it has little or no appeal in the city of Minneapolis,” he [Rockenstein] said. “If I were running today, I wouldn’t carry a Republican label.”

That, Ms. Brucato, is the problem. Ranked-choice voting does nothing to address that problem, nor does “moving to the right.” The current Republican Party is already teetering on the edge of self-inflicted irrelevance, a political problem that won’t be solved by moving farther to the right – or by ranked-choice voting.

Maybe, but ...

Yes it's true, ranked-choice theoretically could allow more conservatives to gain votes but that assumes that the Minneapolis electorate is in reality more right-wing than the current representation. You rightly cite examples of Republican Minneapolis politicians to support the idea that Minneapolis voters might select more right-leaning candidates but it seems like historically, there's more evidence for ranked-choice voting causing a shift to the left. While Denny Schulstad is "the only Republican endorsed member of the council for the past 25 years." Cam Gordon is a current city councilman and before the 2005 redistricted elections pitted them against incumbents, there were two other Green party candidates on the council. So it would seem to be a stronger case to say that candidates left of the DFL party line have a better shot with ranked-choice than it is to say that candidates right of the DFL do, given the recent electoral history of the city council.

“The traditional Republican

“The traditional Republican Party has gone so far to the right," - actually there is plenty of data that documents an overall shift of the population to the left. Moderate Democrats of a couple decades ago, would be viewed today as being on the right. John F Kennedy would be viewed as right wing, because he supported business and was somewhat anti-union. Lyndon Johnson was more of a leftist neo-Bolshevik. The Bolsheviks were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and today's DFL is basically the Marxist US Social Democratic Labour Party. The DFL even received early funding and assistance from the Communist Party, which evolved from the Bolshevik Party. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a well documented historical fact. The Communist Party was also very helpful in getting FDR elected in the 1930's, which is also well documented.

Johnson a Bolshevik?

You have a pretty high burden of proof to demonstrate that a president whose legacy is overwhelmingly dominated by his unpopular escalation of the Vietnam War and his related (irrational) commitment to the Domino theory, containment strategies and fear-mongering over the threat of global Communism was in fact a Bolshevik. It might have been tempting to entertain the notion that perhaps there are data that exist to demonstrate a shift to the Left but the assertions that Johnson was a Leninist, that Roosevelt was a communist or that the Democratic party is in any way Marxist make me seriously doubt that such data exist, if political ideology is even a quantifiable phenomenon that could be objectively measured to have shifted.

What?!

"Moderate Democrats of a couple of decades ago" would be viewed today as dangerous left-wingers. Jimy Carter was certainly a moderate, but he would be considerd on the left wing today. Similarly, moderate Republicans would be villified as RINOs and roundly jeered by the Republicans today (would Harold "Drafter of the UN Charter" Stassen have a place in today's GOP?).

The DFL was formed largely to eliminate Communist influence, especially from the old Farmer-Labor Party. Hubert Humphrey, who engineered the merger of the Democratic Party, was a staunch anti-Communist.

There has never been a "Bolshevik Party" in the United States. I am curious as to what you find "Marxist (more a school of historical/social analysis than an agenda)" about the DFL.

There is plenty of proof.

There is plenty of proof. Some of which was released by the Soviets after the fall of the USSR. Search FDR and Communist party or DFL and Communist party. The affiliations were out in the open up until WWII. Check out a book written by a professor from UCLA called Left Turn, that came out a couple years ago, it have plenty of research on the political shift and bias by the media. It is well documented and the sources are credible. It is no secret, it is just ignored by the media and the academic powers that exist in this country.

There is plenty of confusion

The Farmer-Labor Party, before the Second World War, did have a large Marxist component. After WWII, when the Democrats merged with the FL, the Marxists were summarily booted out.

There was no "DFL" before WWII. The pre-war Marxist influence on the DFL is ignored by the media-academic cabal because it didn't exist.

FDR and Communists

The American Communist party in the early 1930's was certainly sympathetic to the Democratic party, but so was anyone to the left of the Rockefellers.
At that time there was a lot of common membership and involvement in the communist and democratic movements, which ended when Stalin made illusions impossible for more than a fringe of the left.