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Like Candidate X? Don’t mind Y? Really dislike Z? What if we had RCV?

Tomorrow is primary day. If you haven’t voted early, today is your last chance.

OK, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. But if, in any of the races on your ballot that have more than two candidates, you are agonizing about whether to vote for the one you think would do the best job, or perhaps to vote for your second favorite because polls suggest that that’s the best way to stop the one that you really dislike the most …

… tomorrow might be a good day to think about whether you’d like to see ranked-choice voting (RCV).

I’ll assume most MinnPost readers have a clue or more than a clue about RCV, since it is used in municipal elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There have been bills introduced to implement it statewide, but so far that hasn’t happened.

But the main point, just today, is that if you really like Candidate X, don’t mind Candidate Y, and really, really don’t want Candidate Z to be your party’s nominee for governor, senator, congressperson, etc., RCV gives you the ability to rank X as your first choice and Y as your second choice, and if X gets fewest votes on the first round of counting, your vote will be transferred to Y and you won’t have to worry about having helped Z win.

I’ve written about RCV many times. (Here’s one.) I’ve heard all the arguments pro and con. I’m more pro than con.

But for today, I just wanted to pass along a link to this piece, by Jeanne Massey, the indefatigable executive director of FairVote Minnesota, which advocates for RCV in our fair state. Most things that happen in politics can be turned into an argument for more RCV, and Massey is excellent at pointing them out, but the piece that she wrote for this Primary Day struck me. She went back to a series of predictions that she made in June, after the party endorsing conventions, and reminded us how many annoying things that go ‘round in politics (like someone winning a primary with a plurality without a majority, and several more, that underscore her longstanding arguments in favor of RCV).

I’ll just lift one from her piece, and you follow the link for more:

3.  The “spoiler effect” in full play. Last week’s Star Tribune article, “DFL in bitter clash with Senate candidate Richard Painter,” illustrated yet one more example of the perennial “spoiler” problem that plagues our electoral system under plurality rules. A former Republican, Painter chose to run on the DFL senate ticket instead of an independent ticket because there’s no viable path for third-party candidates under the current system. In other political chatter, we hear worries such as “Lori Swanson is ‘taking’ moderate votes from Tim Walz,” or “Erin Murphy and Tim Walz are splitting the progressive vote,” or “Patricia Torres Ray and Ilhan Omar are splitting the vote among communities of color,” and so on. The bottom line for voters? Fear that their vote will actually help their last choice win.

Again, the full piece, with other arguments for RCV disguised as fairly safe “predictions” for the primary results, is here.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/13/2018 - 12:08 pm.


    A lot of RCV arguments come down to “let’s change the way we count votes so that my candidate has a better chance of winning”. While it is frustrating that in three way races, it’s entirely possible that the candidate who wins will have less than majority support, it is also the case that the way we count votes, won’t change that underlying political fact. All Ranked Choice Voting can ever do is change the way we perceive that fact.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/13/2018 - 02:34 pm.

    Other arguments

    To me, the main argument for RCV is that it results in the candidate chosen who is acceptable to the greatest number of people. In the not uncommon case that no one gets a clear majority of votes, RCV is biased against candidates who get votes on the extremes — first and last choices, but do not get many second or third choices. A candidate who comes in second but has a lot of third and fourth choices could end up selected, which to me would be preferable. It might reduce the current polarization on political grounds.
    And yes, I am aware that it might have resulted in Clinton being chosen over Trump.

  3. Submitted by Kenneth Johnson on 08/13/2018 - 06:56 pm.

    Hasn’t Cut It

    IRV/CRV – whatever you choose to all it, it has not one fulfilled any claims made by its proponents. In Saint Paul IRV/CRV has given voters nothing other than delayed results with greater expense. Instead of complete election results by 10 p.m. – due in in part to highly accurate optically scanned paper ballots on tally machines not connected to any network, as well as a highly efficient Ramsey County Election Services office – we have had recounts on simple city council races requiring multiples recounts. Each time ballots are handled there is concern for potential inaccuracies or even fraud. The results have always proven that if it were a standard electoral process the winner won, and all others did not. IRV/RCV offered nothing. And why the heck do we need IRV/RCV in our town where municipal elections are non-partisan? It’s really quite senseless and it just hasn’t cut it.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/14/2018 - 06:28 am.


    RCV has a magical quality for it’s supporter in that it seems to do exactly what they want, and it doesn’t do anything they don’t want. Many voters want bland candidates. They want centerists who no one is passionate about but are acceptable across a wide spectrum of voters. Just for purposes of fair disclosure for myself, those are the candidates I dislike most. The strike me as cautious and deceptive, unwilling to face up to the tough choices people in government must inevitably face. They seem to me to stand for little more than their personal ambition. But hey any voting system will favor one kind of candidate over others, and lots of bright and decent people favor systems that result in different choices than I would make. My point is in choosing any voting system, we are incorporating our points of view, our biases and prejudices even, and when we do that, we should confront and discuss the choices we are implicitly making for ourselves and others.

    I would also note that RCV is exclusively favored by Democrats. That’s because of a perception that it is a system that encourages the glossing over of political differences, that it favors the “acceptable” as opposed to the controversial candidate. This favors the Democratic style of politics which emphasizes and indeed requires party unity to win. It doesn’t favor the Republican style of politics which is often divisive, and based on a strategy of disrupting Democratic Party unity.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/14/2018 - 10:11 am.

      In other words

      Republicans tend towards negative politics — attack the opposition rather than campaign on positive proposals.
      It’s a question of whether you prefer governance by a plurality, or by a candidate acceptable majority.
      By the way, RCV (or the Hare system) has been used successfully in places like Brasil and Australia.
      And remember–
      plurality votes brought us Trump, Bush, Clinton and Ventura.

      • Submitted by Tim Smith on 08/16/2018 - 09:05 am.


        for you for having the guts to point the finger at R’s for negative politics, maybe take a break and look around you. wow.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/14/2018 - 03:04 pm.


    In my personal, and often disputed view, Republicans are largely a negative party. They see government as something to be limited. They believe that many things Democrats would like to do are done better by the private sector. Whatever the merits of these views might be, as a practical matter, they make the job of Republicans in power a lot easier. That’s because of a basic asymmetry in that it’s harder to do something than it is to do nothing. Democrats, a more positive party, must put in an enormous amount of work in assembling the super majorities necessary to get things done. Republicans, on the other hand, have a de facto veto power over anything Democrats try to do.

    When thinking about RCV, I think it’s important to recognize that the way we count votes doesn’t change the nature of the electorate itself. It simply changes the way we perceive the electorate. If it does provide graphic evidence that the winner of the election is acceptable to the majority, the fact is that might have been just as true even if RCV didn’t provide us with evidence of it.

    Elections are complicated and they play out in different ways. With a muti candidate, evenly divided electorate, they favor bland candidates, those able to assemble a coalition without alientating too many voters. The guy who is everyone’s second choice tends to benefit. And my question is, “Is that what we want?” Is bland best?

  6. Submitted by Howard Miller on 08/14/2018 - 05:38 pm.

    open primary might be a path forward

    California’s open primary approach has some appeal. Smarter minds may see the flaws we shouldn’t suffer here, but it does seem to put top choices forward with a vengeance.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/15/2018 - 01:11 pm.


      It also gives partisans the opportunity to sabotage, by voting for the weakest candidate in the other party.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/17/2018 - 03:04 pm.

        I think that this is an urban myth

        People talk about it, but I haven’t seen any polling data indicating that enough people actually do it to affect the outcome of a race. It still means casting a ballot for someone that you disagree with. There’s always the chance that they might actually WIN!

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/15/2018 - 10:33 am.


    The problem that emerged from the last round of California elections is that you can have two candidates from the same party running each other. The best kept secret in American politics is that it’s party that matters, not the personal qualities of individual candidate.

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