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Want to make a difference? Ranked choice gives voters more power at the polls

“… it would be silly not to acknowledge that some voters are more likely to vote if they believe that their vote might actually make the difference … .” 

Hear, hear! Eric Black’s Oct. 6 “How the two big parties got an iron grip on power—and turned off voters” makes some important observations about the grim condition of our democracy, particularly low turnout and voter disenchantment with our first-past-the-post, plurality winner-take-all election system.

Polls have shown that at least 40 percent of Americans now identify as independent voters, and a Gallup poll last month found that a majority — 58 percent — believe there should be a third major political party.

Nastier campaigning than ever

Jeanne Massey

It’s striking — and gravely concerning — that while an increasing majority of Americans are eager for a new way of politicking, with more choice, substantive debates and issue-based campaigns, our elections have become nastier and more polarizing than ever. Our system is clearly on the wrong track. It’s hard to blame the average voter for giving up on politics when candidates show no interest in talking to them about important issues, instead spewing vitriol at them about how awful their opponent is.

That’s why FairVote Minnesota advocates for ranked-choice voting: a sensible, proven yet powerful election reform that has the ability to transform politics for the better.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) revolutionized the way Minneapolis voters participate and engage with candidates — and it can bring the same kind of civility to politics across our state and nation. Until we change the rules of the game, as we did in Minneapolis and St. Paul, we can expect only the same old outcome: voter frustration, distrust and disengagement.

More choice and more power

The idea behind RCV is to give voters more choice and more power in their democracy. If voters get to hear from a diverse array of candidates representing a broad range of ideas, they’re more likely to find common ground. Being able to rank preferences instead of voting for only one candidate, voters can go to the ballot box confident that following their conscience won’t be a wasted effort.

Voters can take heart in knowing that their vote will continue to count even if their first-choice candidate isn’t the ultimate winner. That helps encourage citizens to engage, free from worry that their vote doesn’t matter or that it might help elect the candidate they like the least. With RCV, every vote matters — including those whose first choice may not be from one of the two “major” political parties. To win, candidates must reach beyond their base to seek second- and third-choice votes.

The end result? Candidates winning by consensus. And voters knowing, with certainty, that the winner has secured the broadest base of support possible from across the political spectrum, not just his or her own base — and in the case of multiple-winner elections, that the winners will directly represent more voters. All that an election built on positive campaigns and issue-based, civil discussions creates an entirely new landscape. It’s one we’ve found voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul appreciate, understand, and enjoy — and now residents in communities across Minnesota, from Crystal to Red Wing to Duluth, are taking a close look at how RCV could benefit their communities.

Another important step is passing a “local options” bill at the Minnesota Legislature. This measure, which unfortunately met a premature end last session, would simply allow municipalities to decide for themselves whether they want to implement RCV in their communities. It contains no mandates or requirements. As awareness of RCV grows, we’re hopeful about the bill’s chances this year.

We know voters are turned off by the failures of our current election system, and no one person, party, candidate or other factor is to blame. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sometimes, “the way things have always been done” just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Now that we’ve realized there’s a big problem with our elections, let’s take a more serious look at ranked-choice voting. In countries and cities around the world, voters have been successfully using the system for years to ensure better participation and representation. Right here in Minneapolis and St. Paul, RCV is already paying dividends — and it doesn’t have to stop there.

Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/31/2014 - 10:56 am.

    The idea behind RCV is to give voters more choice and more power in their democracy.

    Actually, the choice you have is dependent on the number of candidates who file, not how you vote for them. As for power, that’s what you have when you vote. RCV simply divides the power you already have.

    If voters get to hear from a diverse array of candidates representing a broad range of ideas, they’re more likely to find common ground.

    Is finding common ground a good thing or a bad thing? For myself, I want the policies I support to be implemented. I am not really interested in whether others find common ground with me.

    “Being able to rank preferences instead of voting for only one candidate, voters can go to the ballot box confident that following their conscience won’t be a wasted effort”

    Since only one candidate can win, if we accept the premise of the question that a vote for a losing candidate is a waste, it would seem to follow the RCV which allows voting for more than one losing candidate is more wasteful, not less..

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/31/2014 - 10:57 am.

    Consensuses

    Candidates winning by consensus.

    And isn’t this the problem with our democracy? Candidates who find a way of standing for everything end up standing for nothing?

    • Submitted by Joseph Senkyr on 10/31/2014 - 11:54 am.

      Consensi

      Wait, your thesis is that the problem with our democracy is *too much* agreement and compromise? Where are you posting from, because it’s clearly not the US.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/31/2014 - 04:45 pm.

    Consensuses

    Wait, your thesis is that the problem with our democracy is *too much* agreement and compromise?

    No, the problem is that because we have a consensus based system, too much agreement and compromise is required to get anything done. The flip side is that minorities have a veto power over government action.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/31/2014 - 04:55 pm.

    Voices

    My belief is RCV supporters have answered the wrong problem. They don’t want different voices at the polling both so much as they want different voices in government. Winner take all voting systems don’t help much with that no matter how they are sliced. What does address their problem is a system of proportional representation, which many democracies around the world have. Now, like all systems, proportional representation carries with it it’s own set of problems, but it does a pretty good job of providing an opportunity for minority voices to be heard. In the above article if you break down the claims the author makes for RCV, you would generally find proportional representation does a much better job of fulfilling them than RCV.

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