Ranked-choice ‘veteran’ Thune not happy with its impact on St. Paul City Council race

st. paul
With the St. Paul mayor’s race likely a foregone conclusion, it’s the Ward 1 council race that will keep political junkies glued to their computers.

With seven candidates next week in St. Paul’s highly contested 1st Ward City Council race, the outcome is likely to be decided by the city’s ranked-choice voting system.

Dave Thune

And that’s too bad, says Council Member Dave Thune, who’s not running this year but has the distinction of being the only St. Paul politician so far to win a race in the extended phase of the voting system.

“The sad thing — the biggest flaw in the new system — is that voters aren’t given the chance to hear the top two candidates debate each other before the final election,” Thune said.

“To really make an informed choice, you want to hear the two finalists head to head, but here, nobody has any idea who the front-runners are and there’s no chance to hear them all because there are so many,” he said.

Ranked-choice-voting advocates, of course, say the system — which allows voters to designate first, second and third choices — is better; the Fair Vote Minnesota web site lists these advantages:

  • Upholds the principle of majority rule
  • Eliminates “wasted” votes
  • Solves the “spoiler” problem and gives voters more choice
  • Increases voter participation
  • Opens the political process to new voices
  • Promotes more diverse representation
  • Reduces negative campaigning and promotes civil, issue-oriented campaigns
  • Mitigates political polarization
  • Combines two elections in one so that voters only have to make one trip to the polls and taxpayers have to pay for only one election
  • Reduces the cost of campaigning.

But Thune, a longtime, outspoken council member, isn’t a fan of the system.

Two years ago, his bid for re-election wasn’t decided until a week after Election Day. He’d received 39 percent of the first-rank votes on Election Night, but because it wasn’t a majority, officials the next week added the second- and third-ranked votes to the mix.

After three rounds, Thune ended up with 53 percent of the vote, making him the winner.

(He didn’t even attend the runoff; he was at his cabin and told me after the vote: “Is it over? Don’t you love ranked voting?” And he was glad he’d skipped the extra count: “Standing around watching people count would be too painful,” he said.)

Bill Hosko, a downtown St. Paul gallery owner, ended up second to Thune in the 2011 count. He says many people he’s talked to don’t like ranked-choice voting, and many don’t understand it.

“I think it was well-intentioned, but it’s not working out the way it was envisioned,” he said. “There’s no primary to screen the less serious candidates, and anyone can put the name on the ballot if they can afford the filing fee. Minneapolis is an unpleasant example of what it allows.”

Hosko’s  advice for candidates, ranked choice or not, is to knock on doors and meet the voters. “You need to talk to them face to face,” he said.

“People think there are ways of strategizing, but I don’t know,” Hosko said, noting that another candidate in the 2011 race — who reportedly urged supporters not to list a second or third choice on their ballots — saw it backfire when she didn’t end up in the top three.

This year, the mayoral election in Minneapolis, too, is likely to require extra rounds of counting, with a handful of fairly well-known candidates among the field of 35.

St. Paul’s mayor’s race, with incumbent Chris Coleman seeking his third term against four challengers, will no doubt be decided early on election night, in Coleman’s favor. Other candidates are Sharon Anderson, Tim Holden and Kurt Dornfeld and write-in candidate Ronald J. “Arjo” Adams.

It’s the Ward 1 council race that will keep St. Paul political junkies glued to their computers, updating their browsers through the night.

The winner will serve the final two years of the term of Melvin Carter III, who resigned last summer to take a job in the state education department. Nathaniel Khaliq was appointed by the council to fill the past few months in the office, but he isn’t running next week.

Those in the council race are:

  • Paul Holmgren, a Republican with the same name as a famous pro hockey player from St. Paul. He ran for the state House in 2010.
  •  Johnny Howard, a community activist who ran for council two years ago and lost to Carter.
  • Kazoua Kong-Thao, who previously served two terms on the St.Paul School Board.
  • Debbie Montgomery, who served one term on the City Council until Carter beat her in 2007. She’s a retired St. Paul police commander.
  • Noel Nix, who worked as Carter’s legislative aide in City Hall and has a master’s degree from the U of M in urban and regional planning.
  • Dai Thao, an IT manager who’s been an organizer in the Hmong community who’s also worked on legislative campaigns.
  • Mark Voerding, who works as an aide to Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman. He also served as an aide to former Ward 1 Council Member Bill Wilson.

St. Paul voters also will elect three school board members from a slate of five candidates:

  • Incumbent Board Chair Jean O’Connell.
  • John Brodrick, an incumbent and retired St. Paul social studies teacher and hockey coach.
  • Terrance Bushard, printing company founder.
  • Greg Copeland, endorsed by the St. Paul Republican City Committee.
  • Chue Vue, a St. Paul attorney with DFL endorsement.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Chuck Repke on 10/31/2013 - 11:30 am.

    Fairytale vote’s comments

    Can anyone read those list of advantages that Fairytale Vote says are advantages of RCV with a straight face and not just break into laughter at how they lied to the public?

    1. The next Mayor of Minneapolis will be elected by less than 50% of the people who vote on Tuesday… it is going to happen. The winner will be someone who gets 50% of those still voting after 15-20% of the voters have run out of choices.

    2. In two people runoffs there never was “wasted votes” now 15-20% of the voters will not be voting for one of the final two candidates… that’s pretty “wasted”

    3. It all depends what a “spoiler” is, if I waste my 3 choices on candidates that don’t make the final two, that spoiled my chance of voting for Mayor

    4. Turn out in Minneapolis was the lowest in 100 years and Saint Paul should be in that range this year. Turn out in Minneapolis this year WILL NOT reach the levels of the Rybeck – Belton race that was the last hotly contested race. RCV reduces turnout by confusing voters. San Francisco has never reached the turnouts it had before RCV

    5. It does get Sharron Anderson on the stage… aint that grand

    6. There has not been a city yet that has shown any increase in diversity in representation from RCV

    7. If you don’t think the Mpls Mayor’s race is got its fair share of negative campaigning, you aren’t listening well… In Thune’s race in 2011 everyone of his opponents had a hit on him on their web page.

    8 Again, in Minneapolis now there is more polerization and no chance to build support from former foes that once happened between the primary and general.

    9. Well, it does combine two elections, I will grant you that, but the cost of the counts make it more expensive than the old system.

    10. This is the most expensive Mayor’s race in Mpls ever… how could they have suggested it would cost less?

  2. Submitted by Kathy Magnuson on 10/31/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Consistency in your story

    In your story about ranked choice voting in St. Paul you also mentioned the school board election, which is not subject to ranked choice.

    You listed Chue Vue as being DFL endorsed but I’d also like to note that Jean O’Connell and John Brodrick are also DFL endorsed.

  3. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/31/2013 - 02:25 pm.

    Solution: Integrate RCV into a system of multi-member districts.

    I have always favored ranked-choice voting (RCV), formerly called instant-runoff voting (IRV), as a step toward proportional representation, and I continue to favor it.

    However, now that the national FairVote organization has embraced proportional representation (PR) for our Congress, it’s high time for me and other supporters of PR to explain what we believe should be the way forward. Rather than do that myself, I’m going to cite some key passages from the excellent website of Douglas J. Amy, Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College (in South Hadley, Massachusetts). Instant-runoff voting, Prof. Amy says, “is clearly a good idea for single-office elections, such as major, governor, etc. In those elections, IRV would be an improvement over plurality voting.”

    However, Prof. Amy goes on to say: “But using IRV for city councils, state legislatures, or even Congress is a bad idea – for several reasons.”

    “First, instant runoff voting is a very poor substitute for proportional representation. It offers very few political benefits compared to using PR for legislative elections. Although it has a few advantages over plurality voting, IRV is still a winner-take-all system and so is prone to all the other serious drawbacks of these systems.”

    “And as one veteran electoral scholar, professor Wilma Rule, has observed, there are several important things that IRV does not do – but PR does. ‘[IRV] is a majority system which leaves out the political minority especially women and ethnic minorities, and third and other small parties.’ Thus IRV does nothing to help solve our voting rights problems, or aid in the election of more women. Nor does it ensure fair and accurate representation for all parties, including minor parties, as PR would. IRV slightly reduces but does not eliminate most of the enormous numbers of wasted votes in plurality elections. It also does not produce multiparty legislatures that truly reflect the variety of political views in the electorate.”

    “Finally, unlike PR, IRV eliminates none of the problems associated with redistricting, such as uncompetitive districts and partisan gerrymandering. In short, in legislative elections, IRV is not much better than plurality elections; and as a winner-take-all system, it remains grossly inferior to PR. Adopting proportional representation elections would bring a number of badly needed changes to American elections and American politics – adopting IRV would not. In a sense, using IRV for legislative elections is like putting a new set of seats into an old, run-down car, while doing nothing to address its worn out engine and malfunctioning transmission. The car will feel a bit better to ride in, but it will still not run well and will continue to break down.”

    https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/articles/irv.htm

    Fortunately, there is a way to wed RCV with proportionality. It would involve creating multi-member districts in Saint Paul. For example, we could combine Wards One to Four into a single district with four representatives and Wards Five to Seven into another single district with three representatives. We’d still have the same number of city council members, but they’d be elected proportionally, thereby conferring all the advantages of proportional representation. Applying RCV to this purpose involves a little more math than applying it to a mayoral election, which is why the national FairVote organization refers to this adaptation of RCV as the single transferable vote system (STV). This exact system has been quietly and effectively used for many years in Cambridge, Massachusetts (home of Harvard University) to elect the city council and school board. For more information, please check out Douglas J. Amy’s incomparable website once again:

    https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/BeginnningReading/howprwor.htm

    I post all of this as a long-time and continuing supporter of FairVote Minnesota, but I am speaking entirely for myself here.

  4. Submitted by Chuck Repke on 10/31/2013 - 03:51 pm.

    If you complicate voting enough, maybe then you can win?

    The entire argument for RCV or IRV or proportional voting really comes from people who spend way too much time reading about politics and not enough time trying to get people to vote. If you want to get the average Joe and Jane citizen to vote the ballot has to be simple. That is why in RCV you see a decrease in voter turnout, not an increase. San Francisco has never reached the turnout it had before RCV.

    Why does that happen? Because nobody in their right mind would actually rank all 35 people running for Mayor of Minneapolis and few people would even read all of their bio’s. If you are someone who actually knows the names of all 35 people running, I am 100% sure you are a supporter of RCV.

    Normal people when faced with this massive list of candidates running, their first response is to shut their eyes and walk away… not interested. The same would have been true if you reduced it to the top ten who might have some chance. That is why we always see the radical difference in turnout between primaries and general elections for municipal office. People would actually tell you when you doorknock, “I don’t vote in primaries, I wait until there is two of them and I can read up.”

    But, our overeducated elitist friends with Fairytale vote will gladly sacrifice those voters so that they have the opportunity to vote for more than one person at the same time? That somehow they think through the round robin election process of runoff’s you get a “fairer” result than if you had a primary and let the final two square off? It is just an intellectual exercise. Elections aren’t the will of the people for them, it’s a parlor game.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 10/31/2013 - 09:37 pm.

      If you want to get Joe and Jane citizen to vote…

      If you want to get Joe and Jane citizen to vote, you have to give them somebody to vote for.

      RCV is not rocket science. Indeed, a slightly more complicated (but vastly superior, because proportional) version of this method of vote counting, called the single transferable vote (STV), has been quietly used in Cambridge, Massachusetts (the home of Harvard University) to elect the school board and the city council. Everybody knows how to use it. There was a time when the STV system was new in Cambridge (in fact, that was in 1941), and maybe some people back then complained about how complicated it was. But the Cambridge voters eventually figured it out, and now they’re okay with it.

      Read all about Cambridge here: http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=241

      Please notice that African-Americans have been unusually well represented in Cambridge ever since STV was implemented; indeed, they’ve been better represented (that is: more accurately represented) here than anywhere else.

      I see no reason whatsoever why we in Minneapolis and Saint Paul can’t do what the folks in Cambridge, MA do.

      “Massive” lists of candidates are not a necessary part of an alternative voting system (such as RCV in the Twin Cities) or of a proportional voting system (such as the one those lucky citizens of Cambridge, MA have). It would be very easy to whittle those long lists of unserious candidates down to a manageable size. Here’s my suggestion: If you want to be a candidate for mayor or city council, you must show the election officials a list of 1,000 signatures of registered voters in your district who are willing to endorse your candidacy. There. Problem solved.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/31/2013 - 08:36 pm.

    Fairvote

    Why is Minnpost putting all of Fairvote’s (mostly false) talking points in this story? This is an organization that was cited and fined for deliberately misleading voters during the St. Paul ballot campaign. “Fair”vote is a misnomer. Time to stop giving this group an unlimited platform to spread its misinformation

  6. Submitted by Chuck Repke on 11/01/2013 - 09:29 am.

    Eric you have proved my point

    As stated, the only place in the US where RCV-proportional voting is successfully used is Cambridge MA – home to Harvard. What do you think is the average education level of Cambridge? Exactly what percentage of the population is col. graduates?

    Overeducated elitist are the only people who are so interested in their municipal government that they would RANK candidates for Mayor or City Council. The facts are that in every other city that has tried RCV in the US turnout has gone down. The most recent mayor’s race in San Francisco with more money spent than any of their previous races, still had a turnout lower than the last contested mayor’s race under their old run off system (who fairytale vote complained about the low turn out in the runoff to why they should switch to RCV).

    I will write a $100 donation to MN Post if the % turnout in Mpls equals the turnout of the Rybeck – Belton race. There are 35 candidates on the ballot… all of the choice in that one could hope for… Why am I so sure that the turnout numbers won’t be reached? Because I have spent 40 years trying to get people to vote in city elections, and my experience in knocking on doors and talking to real people tells me that, “more choices” isn’t what gets people to vote. It is knowing that you are making the best choice, understanding your choice is what gets people to vote. Feeling comfortable that I know what I am doing and who I am voting for is what gets most people out to vote.

    In other countries that use RCV and proportional voting, there is much stronger party line voting.. in fact in Austrailia you have RCV-Proportional, and what the voter can do (and most do) is just pull the party lever and the votes are pre-ranked in the order that the party wants them ranked to makimize the rankings system. That is doubtful to happen in the US. With that being the case, any call for that type of voting is a call to restrict the number of people who vote… because you and I both know complicated ballots reduce turnout.

    Its just a fact.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/15/2013 - 12:29 am.

      Proportional Representation Increases Voter Turnout.

      Douglas J. Amy, whose excellent book (REAL CHOICES, NEW VOICES: THE CASE FOR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IN THE UNITED STATES) I have already quoted elsewhere, provides some very telling and meaningful data on page 152 of the book’s second edition.

      The following countries have proportional representation systems. I have listed them as they appear in a table in Prof. Amy’s book, each followed by a percentage indicating the average voter turnout during the 1990s.

      Italy, 90.2%; Iceland, 88.3%; Belgium, 84.1%; Sweden, 82.6%; Denmark, 81.7%; Austria, 79.6%; Spain, 79.0%; Norway, 75.7%; Netherlands, 75.2%; Germany, 72.7%.

      The following countries have non-proportional “plurality” systems of representation, as we do here in the United States. I have listed them here with the same percentages indicating average voter turnout during the 1990s:

      United Kingdom, 72.4%; France, 60.6%; Canada, 60.1%; United States, 44.9%.

      Douglas J. Amy comments upon these findings on page 166 of his book as follows:

      “Massive abstention from voting in the United States and the class bias [that is, upper-income bias – E.P.J.] among those who do vote are serious problems that compromise the fairness and responsiveness of our political system. Low voter turnout can only continue to undermine the kind of political equality we need to make democracy work in everyone’s interest. Proportional representation by itself will not completely solve this complex problem. Other reforms, including such things as postal voting and voting on a weekend or holiday, would help as well. Nevertheless, as the evidence in this chapter has shown, a large part of the problem is undoubtedly caused by our reliance on plurality elections, and so part of the solution has to be a change to PR. Proportional representation would give Americans much better reasons to show up at the polls. We would be much more confident that our votes would help to elect someone in whom we believe, and the wider variety of parties would make it much easier to find candidates that we were actually excited about. These changes could not help but increase the turnout of American voters and make our elections into a more truly democratic and representative process.”

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