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Ranked-choice voting gives voters more voice

REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot
Voters who have more voice are more likely to express their views.

American democracy is in shambles. From the government shutdown and the debt ceiling fight in Washington to low voter turnout in many parts of the country to unprecedented levels of distrust and disgust with political representatives, American democracy is on a precipice. Either we make some fundamental changes in the direction American democracy is headed, or we seem destined to continue the process of decline, dysfunction and gridlock. 

Matthew F. Filner
Matthew F. Filner

After more than 20 years of participating in and studying the American electoral system, it is my contention that the only way we can adequately change the direction of American democracy is fundamentally to change the way in which we elect our representatives. The first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system that we currently employ in most elections is failing to create a vibrant representative democracy. Instead, we need to employ the ranked-choice voting (RCV) system used in Minneapolis, St. Paul and San Francisco on a much wider basis.

Using RCV is controversial in some arenas. Critics charge that the system is too confusing, too cumbersome and even unfair. While RCV is certainly more complex that the current system, the costs of the winner-takes-all system are much too high to ignore this important electoral innovation. The costs include limited voter voice and highly polarized elected officials who only appeal to a narrow slice of the electorate. If we are to depolarize our political system, we need to dramatically increase voter voice in elections.

Voting is two actions

Voting requires two related but fundamentally distinct actions. The first part of voting is what we might call its “transactional” element. A voter enters the poll and engages in a transaction with the election judge. In Minnesota, the transaction involves finding your name on a list — if you are registered — or providing documentation in order to register to vote. The result of that transaction is the voter gets a ballot.

The second part of voting involves an act of “conscience.” In the voting booth, a voter makes decisions that reflect his/her most deeply held beliefs. The voter interacts with no one, consults with no one (unless there are technical problems with filling out the ballot) and makes his/her decisions about which candidate to support and whether or not to support a particular ballot measure.

It is the act of conscience that is most important in an election, and we broadly use an antiquated system that allows voters to express only one choice per election for each office.

Giving voters more voice

RCV, by contrast, gives voters the opportunity to express multiple views about each election while they are in the voting booth. In Minneapolis, for example, voters will be able to express their first, second, and third choices, instead of only expressing their first choice. This dramatically increases voters’ voice in the election process. In traditional elections, if the voter’s first choice is not competitive, the voter’s voice is eliminated. With RCV, the voter gets a second chance (and then a third chance) to express his/her most deeply held beliefs about who would best represent his or her views. 

Voters who have more voice are more likely to express their views. As we know from decades worth of voter surveys, the most common reason voters give for not voting is that they think their vote won’t matter, their voice won’t be heard. Adopting RCV, as we’ve done in Minneapolis and St. Paul, provides voters with a substantial increase in the strength and frequency of their voice.

Making candidates pay attention

Moreover, when voters have more than one preference to express, candidates must work to appeal to a much broader pool of voters. In a traditional winner-takes-all system, if a voter chooses a candidate’s opponent, the voter is largely dismissed. RCV upends this calculus. Instead of dismissing non-supporters, candidates must work hard to win “second-choice” and “third-choice” supporters. As a result, the winning candidate will have successfully appealed to a broader coalition of voters.

And the advantages don’t stop there. Candidates who win with a broader coalition of voters must then govern with a broader coalition of ideas. Unlike our traditional winner-takes-all system, which rewards candidates who govern only for their base — see Ted Cruz, as the most prominent national example — RCV produces winners who must govern for a much more diverse group of constituents. This leads to governance that is far more inclusive and far more respectful of the diversity of views in our electorate.

What to watch for on Nov. 5

When voters go to the polls on Nov. 5, many will be watching for the results of the Minneapolis mayoral election — a wide-open and competitive election. In a traditional election, there would be a “winner” after the first count — whichever candidate received the most votes, no matter how small their winning percentage. RCV works differently. The best metaphor to think about is a running race. Just as the Twin Cities Marathon had a “leader” after the first mile, so too will the mayoral election have a “leader” after the first count. And just as you wouldn’t think of the leader after mile one as a “winner,” we shouldn’t think of the candidate who is leading after the first ballot as having “won” the first ballot. 

Instead, as voter preferences are re-entered into the pool when their first choice candidates are dropped, we will see a clearer and clearer picture regarding the leader.

Finally, on the last count, all voter preferences will be entered and we will have a winner with over 50 percent of the vote. At that point, our citizens will have spoken with a much louder expression of preferences, and the new mayor of Minneapolis will have a much broader coalition of supporters. And the real winner will be our democracy.

Matthew F. Filner is a political science professor and chair of the Social Science Department at Metropolitan State University. His views do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.


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Comments (44)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/29/2013 - 09:21 am.

    Multiple views

    I don’t have multiple views on stuff. It therefore follows that any system that requires that I do distorts my intent as a voter.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/29/2013 - 05:14 pm.

      Multiple views required? Not RCV.

      When does RCV “require” you to have multiple views (assuming you mean a second or more choices in a race)? You always can rank only a first choice.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/29/2013 - 01:24 pm.


    These guys are getting better. Instead of outright lying, they are just being slippery. Filner says:

    “Finally, on the last count, all voter preferences will be entered and we will have a winner with over 50 percent of the vote.”

    Under RCV, you will always have 50 percent or more on the LAST COUNT. That does not mean that the winner will have 50 percent of the vote. The last San Francisco mayor had 43 percent of the vote. He only had 50 percent by counting the votes for the first and second place candidates and discarding the rest. You only get to 50 percent by discarding the votes for candidates that did not make the last count.

    If you have to discard valid votes to create an RCV “majority” you aren’t creating a broader coaltion at all,which is one of the reasons that a number of municipalities that tried RCV repealed it or are in the process of doing so.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/29/2013 - 02:12 pm.

      Disingenous whining against RCV riddled with falsehood.

      No statement about RCV could be more false than yours, which you repeat ad nauseum, that RCV discards valid votes.

      The ONLY votes which are ever set aside in the RCV tabulation process, round by round, are those for candidates who are DEFEATED – i.e., for whom it is a MATHEMATICAL IMPOSSIBILITY to succeed in election !! So of course, just as in the legacy election system, they are not counted again. Defeated is defeated.

      To allege, as you have repeatedly, that somehow the system just throws away votes willy-nilly without counting them is the height of irresponsibility and intellectually dishonest.

      Another that you doggedly repeat, again with a false implication, is that “a number” of municipalities have repealed RCV for the reasons of your objections.

      In a previous post, here cited, when challenged, you gave 4 instances of same, BUT here are the summarized actual facts regarding those 4 repeals, from

      BURLINTON, VT (pop. About 42,000)….a case of a sore loser and his supporters

      ASPEN, CO (pop. less than 7,000)….a case where the RCV system elected exactly the same candidates as the “old” system it replaced, therefore it seemed to make no difference

      PIERCE COUNTY, WA…a Supreme Court decision restoring an old election system that had previously been struck down

      NORTH CAROLINA JUDICIAL and MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS….municipal elections can still use RCV, and in some cases have elected to continue to do so, although it can no longer be used in judicial elections due to a “voter ID” law the legislature passed in 2013.

      So your implication that these 4 instances, NONE OF WHICH compare to the situation here in Minneapolis, are somehow indicative of massive discontentment with RCV could hardly be more misleading.

      I don’t mind your implacable opposition to RCV – what I mind is your dishonest arguments and “slippery” implications.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/29/2013 - 03:00 pm.

        Completely wrong

        Steve, more and more I think you just don’t understand how RCV works. Lets go through the San Francisco results again:

        197,242 voters cast valid ballots. 84,457 of those votes went for the winner, Ed Lee. That total includes both first place votes and second and third place votes. That is 42.8 percent of the vote. 57.2 of the voters who cast valid ballots did not vote for the winner. That isn’t a majority.

        The election was not decided until there were two candidates left in the RCV process. The second place candidate, John Avalos, received 57,160 votes, or 29 percent. Lee was declared the winner because he had more than 50 percent on the “last count” between he and Avalos. Between the two of them, he had 59 percent of the vote.

        Some RCV advocates would say that that having a majority of the “last count” gives you a majority (and some are slippery about it like professor Filner). But to call that a majority, you have to discard the valid votes of the 52,000 people who did not vote for Lee or Avalos. Those votes aren’t thrown away willy-nilly – RCV advocates are systematically discounting the votes for those who did not make the “last count” in order to reach a false RCV “majority.”

        A majority is getting more than half of the votes. If you have to discard votes to come up with your own definition of majoirty, then you can’t claim you have created a broader coalition of supporters behind the winner.

        Your abbreviated descriptions of the municipalities that have tried and repeal RCV are both wrong and comical. How could sore losers change the system if they were losers? The answer is that they wouldn’t have been losers under a democratic system. RCV thwarted the will of the electorate, so the people voted (in a non-RCV referrendum) to ditch RCV to restore democracy.

        • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/29/2013 - 03:25 pm.

          Link to election results


        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/29/2013 - 04:36 pm.

          Opponents of RCV like yourself simply refuse to ‘fess up…

          …to their DISSEMBLANCE. There is nothing more to say about such false claims. They’ve been demonstrated as exactly that.

          It was to be expected that we’d see more red herring dragged out in response. As I say, I have no problem with your opposition per se, but I have no respect whatever for your argument. It’s just plain dishonest.

          • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/29/2013 - 06:40 pm.

            Oh dear

            Steve, I re-read your initial comment and I’m afraid you really just don’t get it. There is a difference between votes for a non-winner (both systems) and discarded or exhausted votes, which occur only in RCV.

            You are doing a good job of demonstrating how confusing RCV is.

          • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 10/30/2013 - 08:27 am.

            It’s in the Math

            Steve, the basis of what you claim, and many other proponents say, that IRV will always have a majority winner. For this to happen, every vote must have the ability and every vote must have a ranking on all candidates. When the vote has their choices eliminated in the process, that vote becomes an undervote. When you have many undervotes, it becomes more impossible to have a final majority.

            Look at the Mpls vote. There are about 30 candidates. Voters get, what, 3 choices? When each of those 3 are eliminated, that vote is now irrelevant. That doesn’t eliminate the biggest argument for this process. The chances that winner of the vote for mayor to get a majority of even being on the top 3 are very, very slim.

            Facts are funny things to argue. To say they are false or plain dishonest just distorts the discussion. But that’s what some people do when they can’t counter the facts.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/30/2013 - 01:13 pm.

              For me, “majority” is a term not specified by either side…

              …of the debate, in these ordinary exchanges.

              I make no blanket claim, as you allege, that RCV always produces a majority winner, because of the ambiguity of that term and because I know it will cause confusion. Opponents typically prefer to ignore this and toss the term around without discrimination. Some do so to deliberately sow confusion, whereas some simply fail to understand. Same goes for some of the proponents, when it is necessary for them to use this term in a qualified way and they fail to do so. Their claim in those cases, on the face of it, is not correct as stated.

              In the example you give, someone casts his 3 votes for 3 DEFEATED candidates (those who have no mathematical possibility of winning – you do agree they are defeated, right ? If not, there is a much bigger problem here.) You say “that vote is now irrelevant”. In what way is it irrelevant ? Do you think the votes for DEFEATED candidates should be counted round after round, again and again, despite the fact their candidate(s) is no longer viable ? If you give this a little more thought, you’ll see what I mean and understand the logic of the RCV system better.

              The 3 votes were cast and each counted, exactly as each single vote in our legacy voting system. Are votes for all candidates who are defeated “irrelevant” ? I don’t think so. They just didn’t suffice to elect that candidate.

              My point about Mr. Hintz’s dishonest argument has nothing to do with facts. He has never answered the real facts when challenged on his assertions, which in the end are no more than opinions.

              It’s only his argument that I have disparaged, because it drags down the level of debate here on MinnPost, casting heat rather than light on the subject matter.

  3. Submitted by Chuck Repke on 10/29/2013 - 02:10 pm.

    What to watch for

    Three things to watch for… first will the turn out in Mpls equal the last contested turnout Mayor’s race Rybeck vs Belton? If it doesn’t that means that RCV reduces turnout. San Francisco has never had the turnout it had before RCV… because it discourages voters from voting.
    Second as mentioned above, up until this year every Mayor in Mpls was elected by a majority of the voters. This will be the first year that does not occur. You will want to watch what percentage of people voting that day actually voted for the final winner.
    The third thing to watch for is how many voters actually showed up and voted that day and did not vote for either of the last two people standing? Usually in a contested RCV race that will be about 15%. In San Francisco last year it was 36,000 voters that didn’t get a choice in the final two. The advocates will say that they didn’t like either of the final two well enough to vote for them but in the old system, even if those 36,000 people didn’t like either of them they got to vote for the less of two evils… this system just cancels out their vote.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/29/2013 - 05:50 pm.

      You can’t make up rules and redefine words

      ;;; unless you’re Humpty Dumpty. ( )

      Mr. Repke wrote, “This will be the first year that does not occur”, claiming the Mayor elected in Minneapolis won’t be elected by a majority of the voters. He, as is true of other RCV detractors, slyly keeps using the definition of “majority” from what Steve Titterud calls legacy elections

      . But the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) Charter was changed to include rules for RCV elections, as the detractors well know. The rules work as if the counting were for a series of runoff elections. In each runoff — round of counting — a candidate who gets 50%+1 of the votes counted is the winner. The number of votes counted in the first election — round of counting — doesn’t apply. The detractors know this but won’t use the applicable rules and definitions.

      Mr. Repke also wrote, “The third thing to watch for is how many voters actually showed up and voted that day and did not vote for either of the last two people standing”. That number has no relevance to anything at all. It means — if one accepts the rules of the RCV election — that those people voted for candidates who were defeated.

      Mr. Repke also refers to “the old system” and while describing an RCV election. He again slyly shifts the discussion to state that such voters “got to vote for the less [sic] of two evils”. But the correct analogy here, for RCV, is that those voters who didn’t vote for the last two candidates* (Mr. Repke’s description) didn’t participate in the runoff election with a winner. The RCV system didn’t cancel their votes; they voted for defeated candidates, irrespective of the system.

      People ought to present honest critiques that talk about reality, not their redefined state of affairs. A legacy majority doesn’t apply to an RCV election … except for Humpty Dumpty.

      – – – –
      * BTW, the last round of counting in Minneapolis’s and St. Paul’s Mayor (and Council) elections won’t necessarily have only two candidates. If the St. Paul Mayor result mirrors Minneapolis’s 2009 Mayor result — with a strong incumbent and a number of others — the winner will be in the first round with all the candidates’ votes counted. Minneapolis’s Mayor race likely will have multiple “strong” candidates still counted in the round when a winner is found.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/30/2013 - 08:33 am.


        RCV detractors understand the rules and definitions just fine. The fact that you have an RCV majority does not mean you got a majority of the vote. If you get 40 votes out of a 100, you can have a majority in the RCV process by not counting the exhausted ballots. But you don’t have a majority of the votes. Changing the election rules does not change the meaning of the concept of a majority.

        • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/30/2013 - 02:55 pm.

          Change the definition doesn’t change the definition?

          Mr. Hintz wrote, “Changing the election rules does not change the meaning of the concept of a majority.”

          That’s a jaw-dropper if I ever saw one. The RCV rules in the Charter include a new definition of “majority” and “win”. So because Mr. Hintz and others believe otherwise, the definitions in the Charter don’t exist and their “concept” must be used anyway? They’re right because they’re right, and that’s why people should agree with them?

          That defies all logic.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/30/2013 - 03:32 pm.

            Yes, indeed – rigid is right and right is rigid !!

            Most people realize there is more than one use of the term “majority”.

            Most people realize that the different uses are equally valid, they just need to be differentiated, one from the other, in discussion. You know, to avoid confusion.

            But not all people realize this, nor do all wish to avoid confusion – in fact, some seek it.

            Some time into this ongoing debate about RCV, I saw that some of the opponents of RCV are so dogged, implacable, uncompromising, beyond reason – who hate it so much, they are really challenged in an environment of open debate on the subject.

            • Submitted by Chuck Repke on 10/31/2013 - 01:06 pm.


              The defenders of RCV are getting pretty silly. No, I don’t believe most people think that there is more than one “majority.” I said the majority of the people that went to the polls that day and voted. That is what most people would believe is the majority, of course the rules allow that whoever gets the most of the votes left wins…

              The other point that is lost on the supporters is that we didn’t have this issue in the past. Real runoffs created real winners, with larger turnouts of voters.

              • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/31/2013 - 02:07 pm.

                Living in the past

                Mr. Repke wrote, “… we didn’t have this issue in the past.” We also didn’t have multiple parties running or endorsing candidates, and we didn’t have “winners” with less than half the votes claiming mandates.

                Those points seem to be lost on RCV detractors.

                He also wrote, “Real runoffs created real winners, with larger turnouts of voters.” If he means, general elections after extremely low turn primaries, then turnout increased. But generals weren’t runoffs. Real runoffs, which many states use after a general election produces nobody with over 50% of the votes, always have lower turnout than the general.

                The terms “majority” and “runoff” cannot be redefined to suit people’s arguments.

                • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/31/2013 - 09:02 pm.


                  But refining “majority” is exactly what RCV does. Only under RCV, can the winner of an election receive less than 50 percent of the vote and be called a majority winner.

            • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/31/2013 - 09:05 pm.


              No, Steve, there is not more than one definition of majority. If you don’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote – like many RCV winners – you don’t have a majority. End of story

              • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/01/2013 - 04:01 pm.

                “When I use a word,”…

                … Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more nor less”.

                (from Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll)

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2013 - 06:58 am.

    “This dramatically increases voters’ voice in the election process. In traditional elections, if the voter’s first choice is not competitive, the voter’s voice is eliminated.”

    What Matt seems to be saying is that if your candidate doesn’t win, your voice is not heard. His solution is to allow you to vote for more candidates, thereby increasingly the likelihood that you will vote for a winning candidate. To expand on the metaphor, instead of a first past the winning line system of voting, you are allowed to place bets on candidates to place and show. The problem with this is that while at the track, you can benefit from place and show bets, for all or nothing races like city mayor, only one choice can pay off.

    The Minneapolis and St. Paul elections present illuminating extremes about how RCV can work. In Minneapolis, where there are about 35 candidates, it’s quite easy for voters to vote for three candidates who are not among the leaders in the final rounds of counting. In Matt’s terms, those voters have no votes, and RCV doesn’t produce the solution he seeks. In St. Paul, it might well the case that close to all the voters might have voted for the winning candidate, but if their favorite candidate loses, do they really have more of a voice in the running the city than they do under the current system?

    What folks like Matt seem to be searching for is a system through which non plurality voters can be represented in government. What he really wants is proportional representation. Without addressing the broader merits of those systems, they do give non plurality voters a clear voice in the ongoing process of governance. That’s what Matt solves the problem Matt has identified for himself.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2013 - 07:56 am.

    First pass the finish line

    Let me put it this way. For those who object to a first past the finish line voting system, is creating the possibility that a second or third past the finish line candidate might win, really an improvement?

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/30/2013 - 08:52 am.

      Yes, RCV is an improvement

      because it won’t elect a 37% or 43% candidate when three or more people run. RCV will elect a candidate with broader support than just the base supporters.

      And in the long run it won’t waste our taxpayers’ scarce money on 10-to-15%-turnout primaries where only the core of the bases votes. (The long run means we’ve amortized the initial costs of implementing the system and educating the voters … i.e., RCV is no longer new to all of us.)

  6. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/30/2013 - 11:52 am.

    There is a difference … but …

    There is a difference between (1) a vote that is discarded because it was cast for a losing candidate and (2) a vote that is discarded because a ballot was filled out improperly.

    However, the former kind of discarding (1) happens much more often and is therefore a much bigger problem. In any contest between three or more candidates for a public office such as mayor, the traditional system of voting may condemn a large majority of ballots to the discard pile simply because they were cast for a loser. RCV makes the pile of discarded votes significantly smaller and therefore significantly improves the quality of representation produced in each election.

    The latter kind of discarding (2), the problem of spoiled ballots, has always happened, even under the traditional system of vote counting, but it happened and continues to happen much less often, only to a tiny minority of votes cast. With the introduction of RCV, the challenge of mastering a new electoral system has increased the number of spoiled ballots, but it is still a very small percentage of votes cast. Therefore, the type 2 kind of discarding is a much smaller problem than the problem of vote discarding type 1. It’s not too small to ignore, by any means, but the solution is not to abandon any effort to improve our voting system. The solution is to make a serious effort to teach new voters how to use RCV. If we do this well, the already comparatively small number of spoiled ballots will diminish over time as people learn how to rank their choices. This is not an impossible goal. Learning how to rank one’s choices – or how not to rank them, if one chooses – is not rocket science. In the meantime, we can at least be confident that the ability to learn a new voting system does not belong exclusively to one race or gender. If we are diligent in our efforts to educate the public about how to use RCV, it will not belong exclusively to people with higher incomes or more education, either.

    Every new technology has a learning curve and puts people who are slower to master it at a disadvantage temporarily. Does this mean we should not use computers, because this is unfair to the computer illiterate? No, it means that we should make computers as user-friendly as possible and teach everybody how to use them in the public schools. The same argument applies to RCV.

    • Submitted by Chuck Repke on 10/31/2013 - 12:42 pm.

      …but voting should be simple for everyone!

      I watched the runoff in Saint Paul in Ward 2 and clearly 5-10% of the ballots had marked the same person in 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Everyone of those people thought they did a smart thing. Since they are allowed to do it (the machine doesn’t spit it out) they believe it worked. There is no way to educate them that it wasn’t in their interest to do that… they think they helped their candidate.

      In San Francisco, turnout has never reached the levels that they had before RCV and we can safely bet that the same thing will happen here. 35 candidates on the ballot only confuses the less informed or less interested and will reduce turnout. Anyone who spends anytime working on campaigns knows that.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/31/2013 - 01:47 pm.

        35 candidates is NOT due to RCV…

        …it is due to a very poor decision by the City Council to not change the filing requirements.

        I agree this has caused a ridiculous result in 35 candidates, but it is a fallacy to link RCV as a cause. The cause is a merely nominal filing fee. Rather than merely raise this fee to $500, I’d like to see an additional requirement for 500 or 1,000 signatures. This will require real effort and some actual support in a candidate.

        Also, regarding turnout, David Schultz wrote a column about all the factors influencing turnout at which casts light on the issue of turnout:

        “Four years ago Minneapolis used RCV for the first time and turnout was abysmal. Critics labeled RCV as the reason. I was asked by the City of Minneapolis back then to evaluate the implementation of RCV. My report indicated that the main reason for low voter turnout was a perception that the mayor’s race was not competitive. The 2009 was not a good test of RCV. Moreover, there was no or little evidence that RCV depressed turnout among the poor or people of color. Yes, some areas of the city did have signs of voter confusion, but again no evidence that RCV depressed turnout. Evidence of use of RCV in the United States and around the world substantiates that conclusion.”

        One wonders if the detractors of RCV, who already anticipate blaming RCV for a predicted low turnout, will give CREDIT to RCV if turnout is substantial !!! Haha !! Don’t hold your breath waiting for this !!

        • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/04/2013 - 06:46 pm.

          Why are more candidates a bad thing?

          There have been plenty of candidates in past elections but they were eliminated in primaries. Looking at it that way, RCV did cause the multi-candidate problem. But forget that. We make sure that no person is inconvenienced a dime to exercise their right to vote, calling any effort a “poll tax”, but want to make sure that all candidates must have enough money to run, and “get votes” (signatures) just to run for office. And who determines real effort and real support? The media elite? (They do it by only printing about the candidates they deem worthy. That’s B.S.

      • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/31/2013 - 10:17 pm.

        They’ve used STV in Cambridge, MA, since 1941.

        What do I mean by this? STV means “single transferable vote,” a modified form of ranked-choice voting or instant-runoff voting.

        By “modified” I mean a little MORE complicated than RCV. With STV, you have multi-member districts (that is, more than one delegate per voting district), so that voter outcomes are proportional, that is, accurately representative of the real political diversity that exists, and gerrymander-proof. This is what I consider to be the ultimate fulfillment of the somewhat exaggerated promise of our own RCV.

        And what is the significance of Cambridge, Massachusetts? Well, that’s not only the home of Harvard University, but also a place where voters have used STV since 1941. Apparently, it’s not too complicated for them. And if they can handle it, we can, too.

        As for the problem of “too many candidates,” there are many easy solutions for that. My solution is: If you want to be a candidate for municipal office, you must submit a collection of 1,000 signatures of registered voters from your district. There. Problem solved.

        Read more about STV in Cambridge, MA here:

        You have to scroll down to the heading: “Single Transferable Vote Or Choice Voting.”

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2013 - 11:56 am.

    because it won’t elect a 37% or 43% candidate when three or more people run. RCV will elect a candidate with broader support than just the base supporters.

    Do I really count as part of his base of support if my third choice candidate happens to win? Can a highly technical rule change in an election law turn me into a base supporter for the third place turkey I marked an “X” for because the ballot seemed to want one?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/30/2013 - 01:56 pm.

      If your opinions do not extend beyond 2 candidates,…

      …then cast 2 votes.

      I have never heard of a ballot calling out to a voter to mark an “X”, but if it should, I’d say ignore it.

      Don’t vote for any turkey. We’ve got more than a few in this mayoral lineup of candidates.

      Vote just for those candidates who would be acceptable if your higher choices can’t be elected.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/30/2013 - 02:47 pm.

      There’s the base and there’s the broad support group,

      and they aren’t necessarily the same.

      Mr. Foster wrote, “Do I really count as part of his base of support if my third choice candidate happens to win?” The answer is No. If you ranked X as #1 because X is your preferred candidate, you’re part of her or his base of support. If you ranked W #2 and Z #3 because to you they’re preferable in that order IF X/#1 is defeated, then you’re part of the broader support of W/#2 and Z/#3. Their base voters ranked them #1.

      But that’s not part of the RCV rules. It’s part of the analysis of the difference between, say, a Governor who got 37% or 43% — when the other voters not part of his base didn’t vote for him — and one who would have gotten his base supporters AND base supporters of defeated candidates who made him their second choice to form a majority. In a legacy first-past-the-post election, those broader supporters can’t express their preference. In an RCV election, they can and their preference gets taken into account.

      But as two of us pointed out, you aren’t forced to and don’t have to express another preference if you have none.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2013 - 03:12 pm.

    Yellow dog democrat

    I am what is known in the trade as a yellow dog Democrat. In other words I would vote for a yellow dog, as long as he, she, or quite possibly it, was a Democrat. Furthermore, at least in this little area, I pretty well known for that. I have a DFL representative, but when I walk into the office of my neighboring rep., a Republican, she knows exactly what my loyalties are, and that I am most definitely not a part of her base in any manner or form.

    “But as two of us pointed out, you aren’t forced to and don’t have to express another preference if you have none.”

    But if I don’t, I am disenfranchised, I don’t get that louder voice, Matt seems to think RCV gives me.

    I know Matt a little bit, and Matt, not unlike me, is a campaign guy. We are used to looking at governance from a campaign perspective. But what gives you a voice in governing is when your candidate is elected. And all the variations of RCV don’t increase your voice, when your guy loses, and the fact that your second or third or your thirty fourth choice gets in, doesn’t make him your guy.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/30/2013 - 09:23 pm.

      RCV Means Truer Democrats, Fewer Yellow Dogs.

      What if?

      (1) What if all the wishy-washy, fair-weather Democrats – or Democrats in name only – created their own independent party or parties, located ideologically either to the right or to the left of the existing Democratic Party; and what if these people felt that they could vote for these new parties without feeling that they were throwing their votes away? – And what if the same thing happened to the Republicans?

      (2) What if Democrats had serious competition not only on their right, but also on their left? –  And again, what if the same thing happened to the Republicans?

      I don’t expect the second condition to prevail until RCV is expanded into full-blown proportional representation, but I believe RCV by itself already creates the first condition. And I think that under this single condition alone, when you vote for a Democratic candidate, you will more likely get a real Democrat and not just somebody who runs under that label for the sake of convenience. RCV will increase the number of candidates in the Democratic Party who are actually Democrats, rather than “yellow dogs.”

      So RCV offers benefits not only for people who are curious about third parties, but also for people who are partisan diehards in favor of one of our two traditional parties. The secret is in how accurately our elections represent our true opinions. The greater the accuracy, the better the quality of representation – for all of us.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/31/2013 - 01:27 pm.

        All things

        “So RCV offers benefits not only for people who are curious about third parties, but also for people who are partisan diehards in favor of one of our two traditional parties.”

        Can something that is all things to all people really be anything at all? It’s good for the two party system. It’s good for third parties. It creates majority winners while giving power to non plurality voters.It gives a voice to people whose candidates don’t get elected.

        Is there anything that Ranked Choice Voting can’t do?

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/31/2013 - 09:13 pm.

        Are you serious

        Do you really think proportional representation is on the way? RCV doesn’t last more than a couple of elections before people realize what a fraud it is.

        • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/01/2013 - 09:54 am.

          Proportional representation

          Do you really think proportional representation is on the way?

          I don’t think so. And proportional representation has it’s own set of problems to chew over. What I do think is while it’s hard to identify the problem to which RCV is a solution to, generally, proportional representation is a system of voting and governance that actually does do a better job in giving a voice in legislative bodies to non plurality voters. And a lot of RCV advocates seem to want that. I think of this, maybe kind of awkwardly, as a wrong end of the telescope kind of problem. Folks like Matt, and me a little bit are very election oriented. It’s natural for folks like us to ask, how can we change election laws to create a legislative body we would like? When maybe the better question would be to ask, first, what do we want legislative bodies to look like? In this case, do we want non plurality voters represented in them? And when we have decided that, then to change election laws to effect that result.

        • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/01/2013 - 12:06 pm.

          Yes, I am serious.

          As I have said already elsewhere, Mr. Hintz, a system of vote counting that is slightly MORE complicated than RCV as we know it (that is, as we know it here in the Twin Cities, where it is applied to single-member districts only) has been in operation in Cambridge, Massachusetts (home of Harvard University), since 1941.

          This system is called the Single Transferable Vote, or STV. It’s mostly the same as RCV, but in Cambridge, it’s applied to multi-member districts, which requires some extra rules for vote counting. As a form of proportional representation, STV is particularly good at electing racial minorities and women. It does so not by means of any affirmative action whatsoever, but purely by means of fair and accurate counting, without regard to race, gender, or even party affiliation.

          I don’t believe the citizens of Cambridge are likely to get rid of STV any time soon. They’re too proud of it, as this website shows.

          You can read more about the benefits of STV here:

          So here’s my agenda, laid out bare for everybody to see. I favor RCV because it’s a step toward the STV system that the citizens of Cambridge, Massachusetts are lucky enough to enjoy. I like RCV, but I agree that its benefits have been exaggerated and oversold. However, there wouldn’t be any exaggeration any more if we created multi-member districts and adopted RCV to the change. That would create – indeed, I believe one day will create – an electoral system far superior to the one that we have. I believe this very strongly and will not tire in my advocacy. Proportional representation is well worth the learning curve – for all of us.

          • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/02/2013 - 06:31 am.

            multi member districts

            Just by creating multi member districts, you at least increase the chances of diverse representation.

            • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/06/2013 - 11:39 pm.

              Multi-Member Districts Do Not Guarantee Fairness.

              Douglas J. Amy has described the simple voting system you have just mentioned here as “At-Large Plurality” voting. However, he identifies it as plurality/majority representation, not proportional representation.

              “At-large is a form of multimember plurality elections that has been used for some city councils and state legislatures in the United States. Legislators are elected in multimember districts with two or more seats, and each voter has as the same number of votes as the number of seats being filled. The candidates with the largest number of votes are elected. This system is essentially a series of single-member plurality elections put together, and again the main intention is to represent only the majority or plurality of the voters in a district.”

              At-large plurality voting is like single-member district voting, only without the “local geographic representation” expressed by the districts. Douglas J. Amy classifies it as a “Plurality/Majority” system of voting, which he has defined as follows.

              “The main aims of these systems are to elect candidates who represent the majority or plurality of voters in a district and (usually) to provide local geographic representation. There is no intention to ensure that a party’s seats in the legislature reflect the share of the vote. In practice, these systems tend to overrepresent the largest party and to underrepresent the smaller parties.”


  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2013 - 03:23 pm.

    “In a legacy first-past-the-post election, those broader supporters can’t express their preference.

    When you vote, you express a preference. The problem is that your preferred candidate just might not win, and then you are out in the cold. Underlying the way Matt’s thinking seems to be the notion that if at some level you didn’t vote for the winning candidate, your vote doesn’t count, your voice is not heard. I think this is wrong headed. The right to vote doesn’t include the right to win. As I have noted several times before, the solution to the problem Matt raises is proportional representation. A candidate who gets ten percent of the vote, say, gets ten percent of the seats in whatever legislative body is being elected. Under that system (which has a myriad of other problems) non plurality voters really do have a voice. But RCV is complicated, and like most complicated systems, it serves several somewhat conflicting interests. While it’s an attempt to rig the system so that the end of the process, a majority candidate is elected, it also is intended to protect the interests of nonplurality voters.In a winner take all election like the one for mayor, no proportional representation is possible, one of the candidates who crosses the finish line will win. We just aren’t certain that it that it will be the first one, the second one, or maybe the third. Such a system wouldn’t work at the racetrack, and I am not sure why people think it works in Minneapolis mayoral races.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/01/2013 - 02:51 pm.

    Horse race

    Maybe the best way to think of this is like a horse race. At Canterbury, they solve the first past the finish line, by allowing you to bet in different ways, each of them resulting in payoffs. Currently in Minneapolis, only one candidate who passes the finish line gets paid off, and RCV does nothing to change that.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2013 - 08:45 am.

    Voter intent

    So are you suggesting that Minneapolis have more than one mayor win a single-winner election?

    I am not really suggesting anything here. My point here is that if your candidate loses, and if you think that means your vote is “wasted” or that you don’t have a “voice”: RCV doesn’t change that. It’s not a solution to that problem. In a parliamentary system with proportional representation, the leader is determined by which party wins, but losers still have a voice, although often one without power.

    RCV seems to me, a complex concoction promulgated by political scientists who have no clear idea of what goals it’s supposed to achieve, and therefore no clear idea of how well it achieves them. It reflects the murky way political scientists think, with it’s concerns for base and non base voters and I don’t know what, not the way real voters think. And I believe any system of voting which doesn’t allow voters in a way that best simulates their thinking results in an unnecessary distortion of voter intent.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/07/2013 - 09:22 am.


    I see the second place finisher in the mayoral race has conceded the election before the counting is finished. So much for the notion that RCV prevents the wasting of votes.

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