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Why DFL is (somewhat secretly) divided over ranked-choice voting

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
DFL establishment figures, who largely backed Mark Andrew in the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election, worry that the dynamics of ranked-choice voting lessen their influence on the political process.

This started out to be a review of how ranked-choice voting (RCV) performed in its big Minneapolis test last month and what that portends about RCV’s future in Minnesota. It’s turned into a more interesting (at least to me) exploration of why the DFL Party is (somewhat secretly) divided over RCV, for reasons that are hard to nail down and are not discussed publicly.

Minnesota’s two biggest cities (both DFL-dominated) are now using RCV. A prominent DFL legislator (Steve Simon of St. Louis Park, currently running for secretary of state) is sponsor of a bill that would make it easier for more cities to adopt RCV. The DFL platform embraces RCV and recommends that it be expanded all the way to statewide races.

And yet — relying on a number of not-for-attribution conversations — I know that important DFLers dislike RCV, would not like to expand its use, would like to get the endorsement of RCV out of the permanent party platform and are interested in getting rid of RCV for Minneapolis and St. Paul elections (although that would be a major lift since it is now embedded in those cities’ charters and would have to be voted out by the public).

Minnesota Republicans, by the way, don’t seem to be much divided at all. The MNGOP platform states: “We oppose the implementation of any voting schemes that violate the principle of one man, one vote including Instant Runoff Voting.” Yes, nowadays we’re supposed to call it one person, one vote, and we’re supposed to use “ranked choice” instead of “instant runoff,” and no, it doesn’t really make sense to oppose RCV on one-person-one-vote (the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of RCV in 2009). Nonetheless, the MNGOP is unambiguously opposed to RCV.

There are principled arguments on both sides of the long-running question of whether RCV is a step forward for voting and democracy. We’ve heard the arguments in recent years. But when political parties and factions within political parties are battling over something like this, it likely means there are partisan and factional stakes.

What is at the root of the intra-party DFL tension over RCV? I’m still not completely sure, but if you’ll tolerate a bunch of unattributed thoughts and arguments, I’ll tell you what I’ve heard and tentatively figured out. The one-paragraph overview is this:

The deep permanent DFL establishment crowd dislikes RCV. Some think it’s bad for the DFL as a party, some think it’s bad for the power of the establishment within the DFL. The factional split played out in the big mayoral race in which Mark Andrew, who was the establishment candidate, lost to Betsy Hodges, whose campaign was much more RCV-friendly and who seemed to end up with most of the support of the relatively anti-establishment elements of the party.

This establishment/anti-establishment analysis is also too simple. Outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak, who certainly must be considered a big cheese in the Mpls DFL, seemed to be part of the anti-Andrew coalition, although he never openly endorsed Hodges. TakeAction Minnesota —  which has become a big part of what you might call the left wing of the DFL establishment — did endorse Hodges. Hodges’ campaign manager, Andy O’Leary, was a former executive director of the Minnesota DFL Party. So I wouldn’t want to overstate this whole idea that there is an establishment element and an insurgent element at play here.

But my impression is that the party professionals and the most important long-standing members of the Dem establishment mostly favored Andrew for mayor. Walter Mondale endorsed Andrew. Sam and Sylvia Kaplan fund-raised for him. The Rices (brothers Brian and Devin) worked for him. The billionaire Opperman family made the biggest single reported donation ($25,000) to help Andrew (technically it was to a third-party group supporting Andrew). These are very considerable assets to any DFLer. And Andrew had — by far — the best-funded campaign.

So, cutting to the chase, the election to some extent pitted a somewhat insurgent Hodges campaign that thrived on the RCV angle vs. Andrew supporters, including some influential ones whom I would characterize as members of the DFL establishment who don’t like RCV and would like to get rid of it.

How it played out

If you look for it, the Minneapolis mayoral race of 2013 exposed the factional divide within the DFL. You could identify the factions with the Andrew and the Hodges campaigns, although at times it seemed closer to being a divide that pitted all the other serious candidates against Andrew. But, of course, it ultimately accrued to the benefit of Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges.

Effective DemocracyAs a city council member, Hodges was among the leaders of the decision to switch the city to RCV. She campaigned comfortably and effectively in the new system. (She had already experienced RCV in running for council in 2009.)

She seems to have formed alliances with other candidates (especially Don Samuels and Cam Winton) that helped her build and maintain her lead through the successive rounds of counting. (She won her final, convincing-but-not-majority victory on the round after Samuels and Winton were eliminated from contention, as the lion’s share of their votes were assigned to her as the second choice on those ballots.)

Andrew, her chief opponent in the race for mayor, told me during the campaign that while he was trying to warm up to the new system, it wasn’t natural to him to ask voters to consider ranking him as their second choice. “I’m being coached to do that,” he said.

Analysis of the voting data confirm that those who voted for Hodges were most likely to rank at least one more choice. Those who voted for Andrew were least likely. In the end, since Hodges and Andrew were the last two candidates standing in the rounds of counting, it doesn’t really matter whether their supporters ranked a second choice (since those ballots counted for the first choice candidate all the way through).

There was a time, in the middle of the campaign, when it seemed reasonably likely that Andrew would lead among first-rank votes but might be overtaken by second- and third-preference votes for Hodges.

In the end, Hodges led on every round of counting. I believe that prevented a bigger potential storm among Andrew supporters that might have burst if the new voting system had more clearly cost him the election. Andrew supporters to whom I spoke expressed more or less respect for the convincing nature and scope of Hodges’ win. She led on every round, and it was never really close.

It is hard and a tad far-fetched (but, I discovered, still somewhat possible) for some Andrew supporters to convince themselves in the aftermath that, if this election had been held under the old primary and two-candidate-runoff system, Andrew might have prevailed, and that scenario also provides some clues as to why some elements of the deep party establishment doesn’t like RCV.

Why don’t they like it?

When I asked people who had been close to the campaign why the establishment crowd seemed to dislike RCV they explained to me — slowly and clearly, as to a small child — that the establishment has thrived, succeeded and become the establishment under the previous system. When you are winning under a system, you don’t want to change it, they said.

When I pressed for concrete mechanisms by which RCV seems to reduce the influence of party activists, professionals and fundraisers, they came up with a couple of possible theories.

For example, uniting the party machinery behind an endorsed candidate is one of the ways the party expresses its power.

At the DFL endorsing convention in June, Andrew led on every ballot but was never able to reach the 60 percent threshold needed for endorsement. The result was a deadlocked convention and no endorsement. Some DFLers, especially Andrew supporters, believed that the logic of RCV caused several candidates to believe that their strength on second- and third-place rankings might enable them to come from behind during the counting.

Don Samuels and Jackie Cherryhomes are sometimes mentioned as candidates who, under the old system, would have come into the convention pledging to abide by the endorsement and, when it became clear that they wouldn’t be endorsed, would have dropped out of the race and perhaps made it possible for Andrew to be endorsed and gain support among those believe in the endorsement system. An endorsement also frees up the party machinery itself to get openly behind the endorsed candidate, even against other DFLers who are contesting the race.

This whole theory falls apart, of course, unless you believe that in a non-RCV race, Andrew would have been endorsed. There were instances of non-endorsement in Minneapolis mayoral races in the pre-RCV era. But if the logic of RCV cost Andrew the endorsement, it’s an example of how Andrew supporters believe RCV undermined his chances.

Another theory is one that goes straight at one of the pro-RCV arguments. RCV advocates claim that the system discourages negative campaigning. In a conventional election, the voter has two realistic choices on the final round. If you run attack ads against your opponent, you may persuade their supporters to vote for you, or you may just turn them off and prevent from voting at all. Either way, it’s a net gain for you.

But in a multi-candidate RCV situation, you have to think about getting voters — voters who are planning to vote for one of your opponents — to at least rank you second or third. In this scenario, if A attacks B, you may drive supporters to C, and you may reduce your chances of getting B’s supporters – who resent your attacks on B — to rank you second.

Most observers of the 2013 race agree that it was impressively clean and positive. Some complain that without negative campaigning, it’s hard for a candidate to draw clear distinctions. And this race, with so many candidates and so little negative campaigning, may have suffered on that score. But if you are the best-funded candidate (and Andrew was, as the establishment candidate is likely to be), perhaps your money doesn’t do you as much good as it might have under the old system, when the biggest expenditure of most campaigns is advertising, and often attack advertising.

I don’t know how far-fetched you may find factors like these. Perhaps they help you understand why disappointed Andrew supporters may have convinced themselves that — especially compared to the previous two-step system of city elections in which Andrew and Hodges might have faced off one on one — RCV undermined the power of the party establishment and the larger campaign machinery to make their advantages felt in the race.

Effective Democracy is a year-long series of occasional reports supported by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, as part of a grant made to MinnPost and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 12/19/2013 - 08:51 am.

    Astute analysis

    Thank you for this story; it has gone largely untold. Ranked Choice Voting is much more than a way to cast and count ballots; it requires an entirely new way of thinking about campaigning and political parties. It will take a few election cycles for us to figure out how to operate in this new world, but I believe it’s well worth the uncertainty. Despite the circus of having 35 candidates, and only about five or six credible ones, the expected benefits of a positive campaign and increased engagement clearly resulted this year. The pros will eventually figure out how to be more influential in future RCV elections than they were this time, but they obviously weren’t ready this time.

  2. Submitted by Josh Lease on 12/19/2013 - 09:22 am.


    All reasonable points.

    I’d question the idea that there was no negative campaigning in the Mpls race; there just wasn’t the array of negative tv ads that people are used to in the congressional (and state-wide) races. And I’d argue that had less to do with RCV than with the cost to run tv ads and relatively low amounts you can raise in a municipal vs (for example) a congressional. There certainly was plenty of sniping going on in the media between campaigns and some pretty ugly things were going around on social media. (I think the best analysis I heard was that instead of direct attacks RCV just made everything much more MN-style passive-aggressive. YMMV on whether that’s good or bad)

    But additionally, 80%+ of the electorate identified as DFL which also changes the calculus of working contrast or negative advertising. You can argue that the need to be everyone’s second choice reduced the negativity, but you can argue with equal plausibility that the fact the candidates were primarily competing for the same ideological group of votes did as much to reduce negative campaigning as the risk of alienating voters with a negative attack became unacceptable.

    RCV both decreases the influence of the party in some ways but also increases it in others: the endorsement gets even more power without a primary, especially in a one-party town. Even if it doesn’t clear the field, the loss of party resources (like the DFL voter file) and the inability to have the party affiliation next to the name on the ballot are significant costs. RCV does provide an additional incentive to block an endorsement, which strikes at the heart of a party’s political purpose.

    I tend to be a RCV agnostic; I understand a lot of the intellectual appeal to it, but question whether the assertions of what RCV has achieved (or will achieve) have been proven.

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/19/2013 - 09:29 am.


    The reason people oppose RCV is not because of the establisment or insiders or whatever meme the pro-RCV crowd offers up. This was really lazy reporting to just come up with that.

    No, people oppose RCV because it sucks. Its a (bad) solution in search of a problem. It does not solve the plurality winner problem as Fairvote and other RCV advocates have long falsely claimed. It doesn’t save money. If you have followed other RCV elections, you would see it doesn’t produce civility and consensus. It takes longer to count. There isn’t any benefit too it.

    If you were going to do some real reporting, Eric, you could look at the municipalities that repealed RCV after trying it. Or at the repeal movements in yet others. After a few elections, people figure out that they have been sold a bill of goods.

    As for the DFL split, my guess is that the split only exists because of the political consequences of opposing RCV. Given the influence of the progressive wing of the party wields, it is endorsement suicide to oppose it.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 12/19/2013 - 04:33 pm.

      These are not the important reasons

      This is such a bunch of straw men. Nobody campainged for RCV because it would be “cheaper”. It doesn’t matter how long counting takes — who cares? (also this could be fixed by allowing a very simple piece of software to do the work that could be checked by hand later). It can’t always produce a plurarily although it often does. It’s fundamentally impossible to produce a plurality of there isn’t any one candidate that more than half the population is willing to support, and RCV can’t change that.

      You’re not mentioning the real reason it matters, and I don’t know why. People want RCV so they don’t need to fear voting for a less-than-mainstream candidate. It is one of the only ideas I’ve ever heard suggested that could ever break the 2-party stranglehold we have in this country that causes so many problems. And in this election, it *did* produce a winner who wasn’t the richest or most establishment candidate, and it *did* produce all kinds of wonderful discussion because people took the less popular candidates seriously.

      It really baffles me how anyone could consider RCV a step backward from what we had.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/20/2013 - 12:31 am.


        I didn’t mention that reason because its completely bogus. RCV does nothing to break the status quo. People get to temporarily give their votes to unserious candidates and then have them reallocated to real candidates or simply thrown away. Betsy Hodges was a powerful city council member, not an anti-establishment candidate. She would have won easily without RCV.

        That “wonderful discussion” was a waste of time. Debates were clogged up by people who never had any prayer of being elected.

        Those “strawman” arguments aren’t mine. They have been repeatedly made by Fairvote and other RCV advocates.

        If it baffles you, you don’t know much about RCV. Again, I would recommend starting with the places that repealed RCV after disasterous results.

  4. Submitted by Ken Wedding on 12/19/2013 - 09:37 am.


    As one who participated, outside the establishment, in Minneapolis politics for a number of years, this analysis sounds very reasonable.

    But the magical kingdom of Minneapolis DFL is unique in Minnesota. (Well, maybe the DFL in St. Paul compares, but I know nothing about that.) While there might be a left wing of DFL politics in Minneapolis large enough to be visible, in the state, it’s a tiny figure tugging at the shirtsleeves of the DFL establishment.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/19/2013 - 09:48 am.

    Imagine this ballot for U.S. senate

    Candidate A – Democratic Party
    Candidate B – Progressive Party
    Candidate C – Socialist Workers Party
    Candidate D – Communist Party
    Candidate E – Republican Party
    Candidate F – Tea Party
    Candidate G – Libertarian Party
    Candidate H – Constitutional Party
    Candidate I – Independence Party

    Given what we know about the electorate, using RCV, would the winner be a conservative or a liberal?

    The RCV system is bad for individual political parities but good for ideologues. One of its earliest uses was in 1918 in Australia when two conservative parties were tired of losing to the minority liberal party because the conservative vote was being split. They passed RCV and voila, a conservative won the election.

    With the rise of multiple conservative parties in this country that are currently splitting the conservative vote (see Emmer-Horner-Dayton), maybe the DFL establishment-types are getting nervous.

    With miniscule support for the communists and socialists, the liberals’ only hope of maintaining political power going forward is to keep those votes split amongst multiple conservative candidates and to concentrate all of their resources into one liberal candidate.

    And as the DFL establishment has learned, that’s not a guaranteed model for success with RCP.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/19/2013 - 01:15 pm.

      What ballot is that?

      That’s not how even vaguely how any ballot looks. You should ask why every party supports IRV except the Republicans.

      • Submitted by Frankie Barbella on 12/19/2013 - 03:02 pm.

        It was an example

        It was just an example and a good one if you ask me. The difference between Emmer and Horner was non existent. Do you think we would have the governor we have now if there was IRV within the state? That is the purpose of the question, not the theoretical ballot Dennis put into his comments.

        • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/20/2013 - 12:33 am.


          Horner had more in common with Dayton than with Emmer.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/20/2013 - 09:32 am.

          Emmer and Horner

          Saying that the differences between Emmer and Horner are ‘nonexistant’ is a stunning rejection of logic and history. Were you perhaps referring to something else, like vote totals?

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/20/2013 - 09:55 am.

      Fantasy Land

      In the last US Senate Race held in Minnesota in 2012, the results were as follows:
      Amy Klobuchar (D): 1,854,595 votes for 65.23 percent of the vote total
      Kurt Bills (R): 867,974 votes for 30.53 percent of the vote total
      Stephen Williams (I): 73,539 votes for 2.59 percent of the vote total
      Tim Davis (Grassroots Party): 30,531 for 1.07 percent of the vote total
      Michael Cavlan (MN Progressives): 13,986 for .49 percent of the vote total
      Write-in candidates recieved a total of 2,582 votes for less that .10 percent of the vote total

      Is this hypothetical ballot IN the state of MN? Because if it were, I can tell you what the results would be. All the non two-party candidates between them didn’t even break 4.25 percent of the vote total, so the Dem (assuming it’s Klobuchar) would win, with RCV or without.

      This hypothetical ballot only identifies party, and you are ignoring the Candidate entirely. I think DFL leadership is worried about losing some of it’s control over the party apparatus, not about losing races to Republicans. As you are no doubt aware, all statewide offices are currently held by Democrats. RCV may have affected the Governor’s race and the Franken/Coleman race, but not much else. Frankly, if RCV HAD been in place during the Gov race, I bet the majority of people who voted for Horner would have listed Dayton as their 2nd choice… but that assertion, like your hypothetical ballot, is no more than monday-morning quarterbacking in fantasy land.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/19/2013 - 09:54 am.

    Diehard party regulars who live for caucuses and primaries…

    …lost a lot with RCV. They used to frame the choices in our elections because they had the power to do so, and so few shared that power in the former primary system.

    Now, the voters, no longer so much in the clutches of the party, don’t miss its inordinate influence at all.

    The well-heeled supporters the article mentions couldn’t buy this one.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/19/2013 - 01:17 pm.

      That’s ridiculous

      The diehards who live for caucuses are the ones who passed RCV.

      • Submitted by Robin Garwood on 12/19/2013 - 02:17 pm.

        No, THAT’s ridiculous

        RCV was passed by a 65% margin by voters in the 2006 general election. Also on the ballot in that election: MN Governor and US Senator, among many other offices. 78,741 people voted for RCV. Look it up:

      • Submitted by Richard Patten on 12/19/2013 - 11:05 pm.

        Caucus system can be a hazard

        Eric is correct: Diehards do often populate caucus nominations. Diehards are the most energized to get out and go to a caucus meeting-sometimes for idiosyncratic reasons. The ‘hair on fire’ extremists for a minority position, such as the Tea Party anti-government, caucuses that selected candidates in primary elections that were unelectable in the general election. RCV will attenuate, but not totally eliminate, the vote-denying effect of a third candidate.

  7. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 12/19/2013 - 09:55 am.

    Great Article

    Good analysis and I agree with Paul above. I definitely think your first point that the DFL Establishment knows how to win under the old system and still trying to figure out how to win under RCV is the reason for the RCV cold feet.

    It’s more than Mark Andrew asking for people’s 2nd choice, it’s about building coalitions. Cherryhomes and Fine supporters were probably closest aligned to Andrew. Although it may not have been enough to beat Hodges, for the life of me I don’t understand why the Andrew campaign didn’t work closely with those two campaigns to gain their 2nd/3rd choice votes.

    But time marches on and the DFL party will increasingly be filled with members and staff people who have successfully campaigned and won under RCV. Those voices will increasingly become “the establishment.”

    RCV is here to stay – better deal with it or be left behind.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/19/2013 - 10:41 am.


    RCV changes things but no one is sure how. It tends to discourage negative campaigning, I suppose, but at the cost of muddying the differences between candidates. To this day, I have no idea what the Minneapolis election was about.

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/19/2013 - 11:01 am.

    The party system is weakened by the number of people who run without endorsement or despite primary results. RCV is an official endorsement of that fact and does make it more likely that an outsider/reject of a party will influence the race into the general election or even win.

    However it requires that the voter investigate particulars of each candidate, and lacking that, makes it possible for an under-investigated candidate to produce some unpleasant surprises after an election.

  10. Submitted by Peter Nickitas on 12/19/2013 - 11:24 am.

    DFL Establishment Divide over RCV

    Mr. Black has a question over the secret DFL establishment division over RCV? Do not play your readers for fools.

    The DFL establishement secretly and passively-aggressively opposes RCV because it puts power into the hands of individuals without mediation of party leaders or gatekeepers. By placement of a premium on positive campaigning to attract voters who may cast a second or third place ballot for a candidate, RCV mitigates the harsh effects of concentrated money, which benefits from sharp division, constant controversy, and the narrowing of a fight over a small sliver of swing voters.

    RCV for individual officeholders leads to consideration of multiple RCV for legislative races (when RCV was called “IRV”, “IRV”‘s multiple race brother was called “MIRV” — hence, IRV and MIRV). Multiple RCV breaks the dead hand of gerrymandering, the fine art of incumbents picking their voters with the blessing of incumbent judges who are also gerrymandered into their own incumbent seats. This also breaks the grip of the two-party duopoly, and makes possible a variety of multiple party legislatures, city councils, school boards, or county commissioner boards.

    Yes, the GOP hates RCV because it attacks concentrated money, which is the GOP’s mother’s milk. Yes, the DFL establishment dislikes RCV because it attacks concentrated money, which is the elixir that enables the DFL to foist the illusion of competitive two-party races upon the public.

    The next steps will include home city councils elected by multiple RCV, and RCV for state office holders, such as Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Auditor. RCV should come to judicial elections as well, and dispense with the nonsense of retention elections, in which establishment judges force judges who do not fit into the Matrix walk the electoral plank while the establishment judges look on. The big prize will be the creation of a unicamerial Legislature whose members are elected by some combination of RCV and (multiple RCV or party list proportional representation) that assures representation from every part of the state, accurate reflection of the political will of the electorate, and reduces the deadly effects of gerrymandering and concentrated money.

    You want to see what the DFL establishment is really like? Take a clue from the characters in “Fargo.” You want to see a real people’s institution at work? Go to Fargo, where you will see the benefits of the Bank of North Dakota on our neighbor; that, however, is a story for another post.

    Peter J. Nickitas, founding board member of Citizens for Proportional Representation, now known as FairVote

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 12/23/2013 - 02:11 pm.

      I’m with you, Mr. Nickitas.

      We can only hope that RCV establishes itself well enough that we shall be able to make the case for RCV with multi-member districts, or MIRV, as you call it. RCV is great for the election of a mayor or governor, but it doesn’t change very much about elections to city councils, county boards, and legislatures, unless it is combined with multi-member districts.

      In other words, like you, I support RCV particularly as a step toward proportional representation. I also think your observations about the distortions of gerrymandering and the corrupting influence of campaign money are right on target.

  11. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/19/2013 - 11:53 am.

    The election was confusing because the threshold for

    running was too low. This encouraged a lot of candidates who ran just for the fun of it and knew that they had no chance of winning.

    I could see ranked-choice voting working if the candidates first had to qualify by 1) gaining signatures representing a certain percentage of the voters, and 2) doing so entirely with volunteers, with the additional rule that using paid signature gatherers would automatically disqualify a candidate.

    If they can’t attract the support of anyone outside their families and immediate circle of friends, then they’re not serious candidates.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/19/2013 - 12:55 pm.


    RCV tends to be good or bad for different sets of people at different times. The same could be said for the winner takes all system. That’s why it’s very difficult to take a partisan position on it. I’m a Democrat, and sometimes it will be good for the Democrats, other times it will not be. Many times it won’t make any difference at all. It’s very unpredictable. That’s one problem I had with it, What’s the point of revising a system in a way that doesn’t seem to benefit anyone in a predictable or sustainable way? Except those who demonstrate the most foresight in their ability to manipulate the changes?

  13. Submitted by Dale Sheldon-Hess on 12/19/2013 - 01:05 pm.

    What RCV Does (and Doesn’t) Do

    RCV doesn’t guarantee majorities–Hodge got less than 50%.
    RCV doesn’t end negative campaigning–look at Australia, look at Oakland, CA.
    RCV doesn’t help third parties or reduce partisanship–again, look at Australia.
    Nor does it reduce cost, improve turnout, help minorities.
    And most importantly it doesn’t eliminate spoilers, although it does sometimes reduce that problem:

    What it does do, is eliminate the problem of “clone” candidates; candidates who everyone thinks both are 1st and 2nd (or last and second-to-last, or any adjacent ranks), but they’re not picky about the order. With normal vote-for-one style voting, those two candidates might lose to a third, less preferred choice, by splitting the vote. And that’s why parties do endorsements, or hold primaries, or whatever. RCV lets them both run, and one of them will win.

    But the less clone-like two candidates are, the less helpful RCV is at avoiding spoilers; when there are 3 (or more!) substantially different viewpoints among the candidates, it’s just as bad as vote-for-one. (Look up Burlington, VT.)

    Hodges and Andrew weren’t perfect clones, but they were close (hey, there’s a reason they’re in the same party.) Andrew almost certainly would have won if Hodges weren’t in the race. So of COURSE the establishment doesn’t like it: Under the old system, they could use the fear of vote-splitting to push all other DFL candidates out of the race, and THEY were the ones to pick which one got to stay. Under RCV, that’s up to the election.

    And RCV will continue to “work” until there is actually more than two viewpoints in an election.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/19/2013 - 01:40 pm.

    Interesting views of democracy

    …being expressed both by secret DFL commenters and more openly acknowledged MinnPost commenters. There’s nothing in the Constitution about political parties, and maintaining or preserving the “establishment” of either party doesn’t get much sympathy at my house. Right wing loonies have taken over the GOP and are in the process of, if not destroying it, at least making it irrelevant. I can certainly see why a good many Republicans don’t like that, and I’m no fan of the right wing, but it strikes me as an exercise in democracy in action. The left wing can, and on occasion has, done something similar to the Democrats.

    I view RCV pretty much the same way. Unlike many, I thought it was just fine that there were 35 candidates for mayor, some of them frivolous. It’s not supposed to be a political system for the oligarchy, or for the political experts, or the pretentious. It’s supposed to be a political system for “the people,” some of whom are perhaps not as sophisticated – or perhaps not quite the yokels – that many believe them to be.

    Anyone who wants to run for office ought to be able to run for office, and do so without having to pay a substantial sum to do so, or secure the signatures of thousands of people s/he’s never met or heard of. While a party endorsement may well be beneficial to a candidate, securing a party endorsement shouldn’t be a requirement to run or to be elected. Moving very far in that direction is how we get party “machines” that effectively screen out people (and policy positions) they don’t like, for whatever reason, in favor of those whose views and behavior more closely align with what the directors of “the machine” want to see.

    That’s many things, folks, but it’s not democracy.

    Particularly at the local/municipal level, I see very little wrong with elections that feature multiple choices for voters, multiple candidates, reduced influence for political parties, relatively polite and respectful (and issues-oriented) campaigning, at least somewhat less influence for “big money,” and the blow to political egos that comes with knowing you’re someone’s second choice, but not their first.

    It may mean that the neighborhood idiot gets elected to City Council, whereupon that idiot discovers that government is not quite the simple-minded activity s/he’s always assumed it to be. Or, the idiot may prove to be just as idiotic as critics asserted, and after a term of idiocy, enough voters will realize this that the idiot is voted out of City Council and back to annoying the neighbors on a more personal level. No, it’s not efficient, but it’s the democratic process, and a lot of people, from every point on the political spectrum, have died defending it.

  15. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/19/2013 - 01:46 pm.

    Most analysis is shallow or just wrong

    I don’t doubt Eric’s sources said what he said they said, so blame them and not him for an analysis that makes no sense. At the risk of bringing on angry replies, the analysis in most comments isn’t much better.

    Take the point that somehow the DFL convention shows Andrew would have won under the old primary/general election system. He got a majority at the convention, but ironically, that was only after supporters of other candidates had to make a second choice. He did have a plurality and then a simple majority, but it was a narrow difference, while the DFL requires a supermajority of 60% for endorsement. The convention was essentially a tie.

    Maybe the lack of negative campaigning to win second choice votes accounts for the lack of candidate differences, but maybe they just weren’t that different. Do we really need nasty attacks to be able to tell candidates apart? Those who looked into the actual differences saw the differences were more of degree on issues, or emphasis, or resume credits. It’s not like we couldn’t tell which was the Democrat and which the Republican.

    The point several people made that the DFL hates this is just factually backwards. The Minneapolis DFL convention voted overwhelmingly to endorse RCV when it was on the ballot. The state DFL has it in it’s platform. There simply is no reasonable argument that the party hates it. Maybe the definition of “establishment” needs to be reestablished.

    • Submitted by Matt Pettis on 12/20/2013 - 01:20 pm.

      I second this

      Most comments here are just, well, crazy. As Eric F. here said: “The Minneapolis DFL convention voted overwhelmingly to endorse RCV when it was on the ballot.” If the “power brokers” who rely on the leverage that the DFL allows that are referenced here could have stopped it, don’t you think they would have? Either the didn’t or couldn’t. But that’s not really interesting…

      I’m interested in what becomes of the party apparatus of the rank-and-file volunteers. Commenters like Josh Lease seemed to be alluding to this. And Dean Carlson makes a good point that parties will adapt and will become populated with people who will figure out how to manage a RCV campaign.

      A main function of the party is to turn out the vote for their candidate. But with RCV, there are likely to be more ‘no endorsement’ conventions. Then what does the party do with it’s GOTV apparatus? Currently, everybody then becomes a free-agent and the organizing is left up to the candidates, which are ad-hoc institutions for the duration of the candidate’s political life. Is it better to have the organizing effort be mostly vested with the candidates rather than a longer-lived party? Or worse? I don’t know myself, but I’m ok doing the experiment.

      And it does inconvenience a lot of people who are used to working with a party rather than a campaign, so I understand why they may be uncomfortable, but I don’t attribute it to them being evil or power-hungry… nobody likes it when their job changes underneath you after you figured out how to do it…

      Ultimately, I believe Jeff Klein is right: “People want RCV so they don’t need to fear voting for a less-than-mainstream candidate.” Honestly, I don’t really care if it takes them a week to count the votes, or that the winner will necessarily get an majority rather than plurality. I’m happy to live with these things in exchange for not having to forego my first choice for my second one because of the fear that, if I don’t, I will contribute to my last choice winning the election. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than winner-take-all.

      Also, +1 to Rob Davis’ comment.

  16. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 12/19/2013 - 02:09 pm.

    Fair voting methods are always going to seem like a bad idea to the established powers, but what frustrated some was the near complete breakdown in the fourth estate in covering campaigns; they really did not get it and that spoke volumes about what has become of the free press in our society: they are part and parcel of the political and corporate establishment and not to be trusted (MinnPost excepted, of course).

  17. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/19/2013 - 03:17 pm.

    Minneapolis 2013

    The Minneapolis mayoral election was a two person race. The council president and the former Hennepin county board chair. Had there been a primary, the election run-up would have been a forum on those two. Instead we got a circus. And I’m not talking about the pirates. The circus was non-serious candidates like Don Samuels and Jackie Cherryhomes sucking up air. We also would have had a majority winner, and RCV took that away.

  18. Submitted by Frankie Barbella on 12/19/2013 - 03:17 pm.

    before we do that

    I like the concept of IRV and I believe there are some good possibilities with it at the state level. However, before such a mechanism is deployed I would rather see a change to the balloting system. In particular, the party affiliations removed from the ballot. If a candidate is endorsed by a party or group it is up to their campaign to message that to the electorate. It is not acceptable to have a candidate receive a vote purely due to the letter next to their name.

  19. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 12/19/2013 - 10:09 pm.


    Don’t like isn’t cheaper, and it obviously did not guarantee a majority.
    I didn’t have a candidate in the race in Mpls..But from reading about the race it is obvious to me Andrew would have won endorsement if other candidates supporters hadn’t left the convention leaving it with out a quorum.
    If they didn’t support an endorsing convention then why was everyone’s time wasted in the process. Skip the convention all together and go to a Primary system with a runoff of the top two candidates, no matter the party.
    I would not want to see this statewide..and I hope my city doesn’t decide to use it.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 12/20/2013 - 02:10 pm.

      I was a delegate at that convention and you know much more than me or anyone else there. People go into situations believing and sometimes there are good reasons for that faith, but for Andrews supporters, there was not; they did not convince folks that they represented enough of their concerns and so they could have never gotten endorsement before quorum was lost.

      I wasted my time there because it was the only game in town and I stayed to the bitter end though candidate dropped by the wayside.

      The convention was deadlocked and that was the real reason we had 35 candidates for mayor, not the lack of high barriers to file for office (state law dictates how high barriers will be and that will never be as high as the self-appointed leaders of the DFL would like as DFL voters will continue to choose, not those of us with the intestinal fortitude to be delegates or party officials as we must serve like anyone else–the real question is whom we serve.).

      As far as IRV/STV/RCV or whatever you want to call it, simply because your first or only choice does not win does not make this system a failure: it just means your guy failed to get elected.

      I’d like our Minneapolis City DFL conventions to endorse 1-2-3 based on the balloting as an alternative to no endorsement. That would provide guidance for voters and would be candidates alike and I certainly would not have run for mayor had something like, happened.

      Until it does happen, let us continue getting handy with IRV until we have even better methods to try.

  20. Submitted by Richard Patten on 12/19/2013 - 10:36 pm.

    Some Democrats not so sure about RCV

    Under RCV, we would not have suffered under Pawlenty, because, in that election, another democrat-like independent took enough votes from the endorsed Democrat to give it to T.Paw. This also elected Ventura. RCV looks good so far.

  21. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/20/2013 - 05:31 am.

    So if a voter, who has 3 available votes, chooses of his own free will to cast only 1 vote, is it your claim that he is being disenfranchised ?

    Sure. One choice voters have their votes lose impact. And I think most voters are one choice voters. RCV distorts voter intent by insisting that they are not.

    No one seems to be clear why RCV is a good idea. I think the underlying DFL motivation, as one poster noted above, is a frustration with losing three way gubernatorial races. But that hardly seems a worthy or good faith goal, and by the way, could work just as easily to the DFL’s disadvantage.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 12/20/2013 - 12:32 pm.

      The facts show you’re wrong

      “And I think most voters are one choice voters.”

      Then why did over 80% of Minneapolis voters mark two or three choices?

      Maybe you meant the no-choice voters, the ones who didn’t vote.

  22. Submitted by Rob Davis on 12/20/2013 - 06:13 am.

    I hate this article

    >> if you’ll tolerate a bunch of unattributed thoughts and arguments

    No, thank you, I won’t. It makes MinnPost something closer to garbage a gossip blog. I want substance. Please go back and write the non gossipy article that uses data. Please.

  23. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 12/20/2013 - 02:37 pm.

    Perhaps, Rob

    You should suggest just how one writes about the political motivations of those who oppose law that prevents money and special interests from overwhelming the campaign issues of which people need to hear honest and reasonable argument among candidates.

    Until you come up with some better suggestions, I’ll take Eric Black’s work any day of the week over the nothingness that you seem to advocate, as all of the data are pointing to an effective voting method and a whole bunch of ineffective candidates (just look at me;-).

    We’re in the middle of the sort of non-violent revolution our country was founded to guarantee us, and you’re expecting facts and figures about the motivations of those whom we are tossing out? Is that a reasonable thing to ask for?

    Get on board, lil’ chil’ren;
    Get on board, lil’ children;
    Get on board, lil’ children;
    There’s room for many a more.

    State- and nationwide, I hope.

  24. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/21/2013 - 06:57 am.

    Then why did over 80% of Minneapolis voters mark two or three choices?

    We live in a society where most people don’t know who their congressmen and senators are. It’s never been polled to my knowledge, but I think you might find a surprising number of people don’t know how Barack Obama makes his living. The notion that people rank their picks for offices like mayor, I think, is highly suspect. And it seems to me that a voting system should reflect the way voters think. What I find highly amusing is that Ranked Choice Voting reflects the way certain kinds of political scientists think, a very narrow constituency.

    RCV is extremely complex. As a result it serves different, and often contradictory goals. It was created out of frustration with three party races on the state level, where the DFL candidate had a lack of success. Yet in Minneapolis, it seems to work against the DFL favored candidate. It’s supporters want positive elections, I think, but it does that at the expense of voters who want to vote against someone. As much as anything, it supposed to do what good DFLer’s want, enhance the power of minority voters, without doing that at all since at the end of the election, there is only one winner, and in theory at least it’s the one who didn’t get a minority of the votes.

  25. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/22/2013 - 07:25 am.


    Speaking broadly and unfairly, the Democratic Party is the party that wants to do something, and the Republican Party is the party that wants to do nothing. The result is an asymmetry in our politics, where parties instead of being mirror images of each other, are fundamentally different. That’s why projection can be so misleading in our politics. It’s why Democrats have to work so hard to assemble a coalition to enact health care, which by trying to satisfy everyone, ends up satisfying no one. It’s why Republicans in the House can vote a record 42 times to repeal Obamacare without passing even one alternative proposal.

    RCV reflects the Democratic world view that to get things done, you have to work together to get things done. With respect to a policy that serves many inconsistent and contradictory goals, the one thing we know about RCV is that you don’t want to alienate any voters because you need their votes on the second and third rounds of voting. You need to build a electoral coalition, at least in close races.

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