Minnesota is known for being a leader in civic engagement and democracy, but we believe our state can do even better. We have the opportunity to make our elections more inclusive and fair for all Minnesotans by expanding ranked choice voting (RCV) in our local and state contests. As a state representative and former state senator, respectively, we have seen firsthand how RCV can improve our democracy and benefit communities of color.
RCV is a simple change to the ballot that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one. In a traditional election, a candidate doesn’t necessarily need to win a majority of votes – just more than their opponents. With RCV, if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are assigned to the remaining candidates based on the voters’ second-choice preferences. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes, ensuring the winner is supported by the broadest cross section of voters possible. What’s more, RCV does this by eliminating the need for costly, low-turnout primaries in our local nonpartisan elections – and Georgia-style runoffs in our partisan state and federal elections – and consolidating two elections into a single higher-turnout election, ensuring a more inclusive democratic process.
This is especially important for communities of color, who historically have been marginalized and underrepresented in our political system. In traditional elections, candidates often cater to a narrow base of supporters to secure a plurality of votes, leaving communities of color feeling ignored and disempowered. With RCV, candidates have to appeal to a wider range of voters, including those from communities of color, to win. It also incentivizes candidates to build broad coalitions of voter support that span differences in background and political ideology. In Alaska’s first statewide RCV elections last fall, Rep. Mary Peltola (D) won her election by building a broad coalition of bipartisan support made possible by RCV, making her the first Alaska Native and first woman to represent her state in the U.S. House.
RCV also helps to reduce negative campaigning and promote civility among candidates. In a traditional election, candidates may attack their opponents to differentiate themselves from their competitors. However, with RCV, candidates need to consider how they will appeal to their opponents’ supporters as well. This encourages candidates to focus on their own positive attributes and policies rather than tearing down their opponents.
In addition, RCV has proven to be easy to use and a boon to voter turnout among all demographic groups. In Minnesota, cities that have adopted RCV such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, the overwhelming majority of voters have consistently said RCV is simple, and voter turnout has increased. This is likely due to the fact that RCV gives voters more options and fosters more competitive campaigns, giving voters more reason to believe their vote matters and a greater sense of control over the election outcome. Communities of color, in particular, have historically had lower voter turnout rates, so any method that can increase turnout and engagement is a positive step towards greater inclusivity.
RCV also allows for more diverse candidates to run for office without splitting the vote among them and, therefore, have a chance at winning. Under a traditional system, too many aspiring public servants have been told to “wait their turn” and prospective candidates feel discouraged from running because they are seen as “spoilers” who will split the vote and help the least-preferred candidate win. However, with RCV, voters can rank their preferred candidate as their first choice without fear of wasting their vote. This opens up the field to a wider range of candidates to represent a broader set of values and interests of communities of color.
Finally, RCV aligns with Minnesota’s values of fairness and equality. Our state has a rich history of championing social justice and inclusion, and adopting RCV would be another step towards creating a more equitable society. We believe that Minnesota should lead the way in implementing this innovative and proven system of voting. We urge our fellow legislators and citizens to support RCV and join us in creating a more inclusive and equitable democracy for all Minnesotans.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is a member of the Minnesota House. Former Sen. Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, served in the Minnesota Senate for a decade after her first election in 2012 and was elected Senate Minority Leader in 2021.