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Political divisiveness calls for ‘master reform’: ranked-choice voting

REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

Our current state of extreme divisiveness didn’t start under the current presidency, but it has certainly intensified. The accelerating polarization we are experiencing is not just something we feel and believe to be true; the data show that the divisions between Republicans and Democrats grew during Barack Obama’s presidency and that the division has only worsened under Donald Trump’s presidency.

Jeanne Massey
Jeanne Massey
Political scientists, electoral reformers, economists and legislators are all coming together around a simple, viable and powerful electoral reform solution —  ranked-choice voting.

Ranked-choice voting goes to the root of the problems of our outdated and failing two-party system, which has led to an unprecedented era of division, hyper-partisanship, and gridlock.

A simple and doable change

Allowing voters to rank their preferences is a very simple and doable change that has the power to transform our democracy for the better. It eliminates the dreaded spoiler dynamic, leveling the playing field for all candidates. It makes elections more competitive and civil, and winners take office accountable to a broad swath of voters, not just a narrow base. Their re-election depends on their ability to build consensus and make policy decisions on behalf of more voters.


As this chart — prepared by business leader Katherine Gehl and Harvard economist Michael Porter — shows, consensus on major policy has virtually disappeared. In essence, there’s no relationship any longer between what the public wants and legislation that gets passed.

I believe that most elected officials take office with an earnest desire to serve and to make laws on behalf of a majority of their constituents. Instead, the system requires them to respond to their caucus over their constituents and spend most of their time raising money, which perverts their intentions by robbing them of their time and in clouding who they feel accountable to.

So let’s give them — and voters — a system they/we can thrive in, for the sake of our democracy.

‘Master reform’

In his new book, “Ill Winds” author Larry Diamond adeptly illustrates our current democratic crisis and what we can do about it. Diamond, a Stanford University professor, will join us here in Minnesota to help detail why ranked-choice voting is at the top of his reform list — calling it the “master reform, the reform that can break the logjam on all the other reforms.”

Ranked-choice voting is used in dozens of cities across the country, with several more on the way. Maine uses it for state and federal elections—and for presidential races starting next year. New York City is poised to pass ranked-choice voting this year. In Minnesota, it is thriving in Minneapolis and St. Paul and debuted in St. Louis Park on Tuesday. Several other Minnesota cities are right behind, and legislation is advancing to give all local jurisdictions the choice to adopt ranked-choice voting if they wish.

In Minnesota and across the country, the time is now for a new era of democratic reform. Ranked-choice voting is leading the way.

Author and Stanford professor Larry Diamond will be at Mill & Main West in Minneapolis on Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. For more information, see https://www.fairvotemn.org/events.

Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Scott Walters on 11/06/2019 - 09:39 am.

    Minnesota should follow Maine and roll out RCV for everything.

    I was an election judge in Saint Paul as RCV rolled out. Things were just a little rocky the first year, we had a lot of overvotes that first year (an overvote is when a voter puts two votes in a “pick one” section of the ballot. The electronic tabulator sees that mistake and spits the ballot back to give the voter a re-do). Voters were confused, and marked the boxes for their first, second, and third choices all in the same column.

    By the second election, the process went much smoother, and by the third, it was very smooth. Despite regular appearances to the contrary, people aren’t stupid, they do figure it out.

    Also, you don’t have to participate, if you don’t want to. You are free to mark your first choice candidate and stop there, if you wish.

    I’ve watched it work, it does work, and we should roll this out statewide.

    • Submitted by Michael Fedo on 11/06/2019 - 11:27 am.

      How does this favor democrats? People vote their choices–and it assures a majority of voters favor the winner. Remember when Ventura won the governorship here, about 62 percent of the voters voted against him. With RCV a winner can’t be declared unless he/she receive 50% of the vote, plus one. It’s not a party issue at all, sir.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/07/2019 - 03:52 pm.

        That is false. Many RCV elections – including the last two Minneapolis mayoral races – end with a winner getting less than 50 percent.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/06/2019 - 09:41 am.

    Ranked Choice Voting is a system developed by Democrats to help defeat candidates they don’t like.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 11/06/2019 - 01:30 pm.

      It’s more than that. In all practicality, it ensures 2 parties to remain in control as it pares down to the top two – usually a Democrat and a Republican.
      It also flies in the face of one vote per voter.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 11/06/2019 - 08:15 pm.

      Really? Is that why the Republican party in Utah uses it and wants to expand it in their state? And why Alaska Republicans like and use it?

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/06/2019 - 10:52 am.

    Political division is a substantive issue. It it’s a problem, and that is disputable, it cannot be remedied with a process solution. There is just no reasonable process by which a silk purse can be turned into a sow’s ear.

  4. Submitted by Josh Lease on 11/06/2019 - 11:49 am.

    RCV has done nothing to make elections and political discourse more civil, it’s just incentivized more 3rd party attacks. (we’ve already seen this in the municipal elections in MSP)

    Worse, it’s reduced the incentive for candidates to lay out bold policy or draw distinctions between each other.

    It’s not increasing turnout. It’s created barriers to voting. It’s an ivory tower solution to make people feel better about themselves without actually accomplishing anything.

    Hard pass.

  5. Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/06/2019 - 12:57 pm.

    I guess I will give her credit for no longer making the false claim that RCV produces majority winners. The rest of the claims about civil elections, etc. are unproven nonsense, but not objectively false like the formerly-used majority winner claims.

    Its a solution in search of a problem.

  6. Submitted by Paul John Martin on 11/06/2019 - 01:56 pm.

    A friend voiced a great example of how RCV works to enhance minorities, or important issues. Let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that you were voting in 2016. You are left-leaning, but wanted to send a message about urgent action on the environment. With RCV, you could have voted for the Green candidate Jill Stein, with Hillary as 2nd choice. Even if Stein was eliminated after the first round, your vote would have sent a clear message: Act green now.
    Now the local: In St Louis Park, the City Council vote to adopt RCV was 100%. The debate had no partisan undertones (as Hiram Foster asserts, with no evidence), and simply focused on the clear benefits Ms. Massey laid out. Yesterday, I was an election judge in SLP. We expected confusion among voters, but there was almost none. In my precinct, we had only 1 spoiled ballot out of 215 voters; less than usual. I think that is because (a) our election staff did an excellent job of getting the word out; (b) it’s no longer a fringe option, and people are getting to understand how it works. By the way, we allow 3 options; that seems plenty to me versus the 6 in Mpls.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/07/2019 - 03:40 pm.

      The clear message of a Jill Stein vote was that a small percentage of people want a puppet for Vladamir Putin.

      • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/08/2019 - 05:17 am.

        If Joe McCarthy were alive today, he would feel perfectly at home with the establishment wing of the Democratic Party.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/09/2019 - 05:57 am.

      Voters sent a message by electing Hillary Clinton, but we got Trump anyway. If you want a message, send an email.

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/06/2019 - 05:03 pm.

    Mpls. and St. Paul are one party cities. Do we really want to elect everyone’s third choice?

  8. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 11/06/2019 - 06:33 pm.

    Ranked choice voting gives voters more choices to express their true positions on major issues. How is that not better than what we have now?

    https://www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/the-partisan-divide-on-political-values-grows-even-wider/

    The Pew study linked in this commentary shows that across 10 measures tracked since 1994, the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points to 36 points. Serious problems are not being resolved,
    because there is no incentive to find bipartisan solutions. If a legislator votes against the party line, they will face a primary challenge from further right or left. Party litmus tests on climate change, taxes, healthcare, immigration, etc. do not allow for nuance or compromise to represent the majority of voters.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/07/2019 - 03:51 pm.

      Mostly because it doesn’t accomplish anything. You’d have to look at the places that adopted it and repealed it to see where its actually undemocratic.

  9. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 11/07/2019 - 06:07 pm.

    Polarization is definitely a problem, as clearly demonstrated in the Pew Study linked in the article:

    (the data show: https://www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/the-partisan-divide-on-political-values-grows-even-wider/ In the years since 1994).

    The result is gridlock on major issues from climate and environmental protection, to healthcare costs and accessibility, to gun violence mitigation, abortion, fair elections, taxation, consumer protection, etc.

    Parties are locked into litmus tests on one issue after another, and there is no incentive to compromise or work toward a consensus solution. Anyone brave enough to buck the party finds themselves in a primary from the far right or left. Voters are stuck accepting the “party line” on every issue, no matter how they feel about the range of issues that need solutions.

    Ranked Choice Voting gives voters more power to express their views while not having to vote “strategically” or throw away their vote on a candidate with a lower probability of winning. It lets candidates run on issues that matter to them whether the party approves or not. They may not win, if they can’t appeal to a broad enough consensus of voters, but whatever support there is for their ideas will become more apparent to all, and will inform the elected bodies about where the electorate is moving.

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