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Has ranked-choice voting lived up to its promise in the Twin Cities?

REUTERS/John Gress
There is one area where both advocates and opponents of RCV agree: that municipal elections struggle to attract voters.

If there’s any slice of St. Paul that would have harbored opposition to ranked-choice voting, it would be the DFL’s city convention.

After all, some of the most vocal opponents of the decision to make the city the second in Minnesota to adopt RCV were party activists. And some continue to blame the advent of RCV for a decline in the importance of the party’s imprimatur in a place where candidates pledge to — and often do — drop out if another candidate is endorsed.

So it wasn’t unexpected that of the 55 resolutions presented to the 540 credentialed delegates at the city party’s convention last June, one proposed to move city elections back to the old way of doing things: a primary/general election system.

When put to a vote in an online tally, however, the resolution to scuttle RCV received just 22 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, a resolution affirming support for the system was adopted with nearly 67 percent. All of which came a week after one of the leading opponents of RCV resigned from the St. Paul Charter Commission when it became clear that his attempt to force a revote on the issue this fall wouldn’t succeed.

After barely a decade of experience with what is still a radical departure from the norm, ranked-choice voting has secured a foothold in the region. Yet even as this year’s wide-open mayor’s election in St. Paul provides the second real test of the system, a bigger question remains: Has RCV fulfilled its promise?

Expanding the electorate — or just creating confusion? 

While both supporters and opponents of RCV cite statistics and anecdotes backing their positions, the politics of RCV are reflective of so many other issues today. Few are swayed by the other side’s statistics or arguments. And yet there is one area where both advocates and opponents of RCV agree: that municipal elections struggle to attract voters.

In fact, in cities dominated by a single party, as both Minneapolis and St. Paul are, primary elections often determine the winners of elections, meaning that just a tiny slice of the population effectively controls who becomes mayor. Because RCV does away with the primary, its advocates argue, it creates a more democratic system, since — if nothing else — it taps into the larger pool of voters in the November general election.

“This is especially key for communities of color who are even more underrepresented in primaries than in general elections than the population at large,” Ellen Brown, an RCV advocate who chaired the St. Paul Better Ballot campaign committee in 2009, wrote to the St. Paul charter commission. (Unrelated to RCV, both cities are considering moving municipal elections to even years as a means of boosting turnout among lower-income and people of color.)

RCV backers say the system also leads to less negative campaigns and creates more choices, and ensures that winners have broad support. Another argument by advocates: that voters seem to like it. An Edison Research exit poll among St. Paul Ward 2 voters in 2015 showed that 70 percent wanted the method in future elections and 83 percent reported that they found it simple to use. Of those 690 voters polled, 82 percent reported being “very” or “somewhat” familiar with the method before arriving at the polls.

Edison’s 2013 citywide exit poll in Minneapolis of 2,453 voters showed similar results, with 68 percent wanting it used in future elections and 61 percent saying they would like it used for state elections as well. Of voters with college educations, 88 percent found the method simple to use. Of those without college degrees, 81 percent said it was simple to use.

Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic at a fundraiser for Duluth’s ranked choice voting measure in 2015.

But not everyone is so enamored of RCV. Chuck Repke, whose opposition to RCV is well-known and long lasting, argues that it has never lived up to what its backers promised.  “What concerns me about ranked-choice voting is that not everybody uses it, either they don’t understand it or are confused by it,” he said.

Repke, the guy who tried to force a revote on RCV while a member of the St. Paul Charter Commission, said he thinks a primary/general election format — as is being used in Seattle for an open mayor’s seat — allows voters to focus on candidates earlier and more intensely. “In Seattle … voters will be able to compare and contrast the two candidates. In St. Paul, we haven’t had a primary, and if you asked 90 percent of the registered voters ‘Who is running?’ they’d be hard pressed to name any of them. It’s that difficult to get visibility.”

Repke also considers the system elitist, one that appeals to wealthy, well-educated voters who are intensely interested in local government.

“When you’re trying to convince someone at the door to get up off their tush and go vote when they’re not interested and now you have to tell them to vote for three people for mayor,” Repke said. “Do you know how ridiculous that sounds to a real human being?”

The first test

Minneapolis held Minnesota’s first real test of RCV in 2013, with an open mayor’s race that included 35 registered candidates. It took 33 rounds of counting 78,000 ballots before Betsy Hodges, who led from round one, was declared the winner. By then, enough ballots had been exhausted that Hodges was elected with just a plurality: 48.95 percent.

Finishing second was former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, considered the favorite throughout the campaign after getting closest to a DFL endorsement and leading in several opinion polls. He had endorsements from the big unions, some of the biggest DFL politicians, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, and raised the most money.

Andrew did well in the Somali-American community, but Hodges won where politicians often win Minneapolis elections — in the whiter and wealthier wards in the southern part of the city where she had been a City Council member.

Andrew said he doesn’t blame RCV for his defeat, instead saying he failed to translate his leads in polls to actual voter turnout. But he does say that the campaign changed his mind about RCV. “I was promised that it would increase voter turnout; I was promised that it would encourage communities of color and diverse communities to get out there and vote; I was promised that it would be a more-civil-discourse campaign; I was promised that it would be more open,” he said. “In point of fact, it didn’t do any of those things.”

Andrew said incumbents are frequently targeted by all the challengers in order to bring the leader’s vote totals down. And since he was perceived to be the front-running candidate, he filled the role of incumbent vacated when Mayor R.T. Rybak opted out of seeking a fourth term. Attacks came, he said, but not from the other candidates. Instead, negative campaigning came from surrogates and via email and on social media rather than in public forums.

“It’s very civil at the surface, but underground it’s very nasty,” Andrew said of his RCV campaign. “They do e-mail campaigns and Twitter campaigns that are actually nastier and more distorted than you would get just having a candidates’ debate.”

Karl Landskroener, an organizer for Fair Vote Minnesota
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Karl Landskroener, an organizer for Fair Vote Minnesota, signs up a supporter before a recent Minneapolis campaign forum.

Under RCV, those public forums tended to become “me-too” affairs, since candidates had a motive not to alienate any batch of voters, said Andrew. “The frontrunner can’t respond because the frontrunner is working really hard not only to keep their first-place votes but to get enough second and third-place votes from the lesser candidates to push them over.”

That election also exposed one of the quirks of RCV, thanks to a campaign strategy employed in Ward 6, where Somali immigrants make up a large proportion of votes. Voters were urged to vote for Andrew and Somali-American city council candidate Abdi Warsame — and no one else. Only 45 percent of the ballots from the ward had second or third choices, whereas the citywide average was 80 percent.

Were those voters disenfranchised? That is, did they give up their full role in the election? Andrew, who said he wasn’t behind the strategy, said that because he and Warsame carried that ward, most of the votes were still involved until the last vote count, since Warsame won his seat and Andrew finished second in the mayor’s race.

Repke agrees, noting that if a voter fully expects their favored candidate to finish in the top two, there is no reason to cast second or third choice votes. “If you voted for (third-place finisher) Don Samuels three times, your vote ended up in the trash,” Repke said. “But you’re safe if you know your candidate is in the top two.”

At the same time, giving a first choice to a symbolic but likely doomed candidate doesn’t hurt — as long as one of the front runners is listed second or third.

History making?

The St. Paul mayor’s election features dynamics that could put RCV to the test. Because none of the four DFL candidates — current council member Dai Thao, former council members Melvin Carter III and Pat Harris, and a former school board member Tom Goldstein — reached the 60 percent threshold to secure the party’s endorsement, they have been free to run for the technically non-partisan office without party disapproval.

The four DFLers have been joined by seven other candidates, including Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson, Libertarian Chris Holbrook, independent Tim Holden and a homeless shelter resident, Barnabas Joshua Yshua, who says he was moved to run by God.

Harris is as close as any to the traditional St. Paul mayors of the past: Catholic, Irish, from a family that has lived in the city for generations. And whether he likes it or not, he is being positioned as the more traditional of the main five candidates. Opposing him are candidates who, if successful, would represent the city’s first Hmong-American (Thao), African-American (Carter), or female (Dickinson) mayor.

Complicating things even further was the fact that, in the midst of the DFL endorsing process, allegations became public that Thao had solicited a campaign contribution from lobbyists representing a packaging company concerned about a potential ban on polystyrene, to-go boxes. The lobbyist said she received an email from Thao’s campaign offering to rethink the issue and asking again for a contribution. Thao — who was not charged with a crime after the matter was investigated by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — fired the campaign worker and said he was unaware of the request.

Afterward, Thao lashed out at opponents and alleged that he is the victim of dirty tricks perpetrated by campaign opponents.

Thao’s rivals don’t mention the unpleasantries and there was enough media coverage they didn’t have to. But silence made sense, both out of fealty to Minnesota Nice and because of the matter’s RCV implications. None wanted to alienate Thao’s supporters, who could potentially be picking one of them second or third on their ballots.

Where all candidates are above average

When Rebecca Noecker was running for an open seat on the St. Paul City Council in 2015, she had to learn something that’s difficult for some Minnesotans: She had to learn to talk about herself. The fact that it was an RCV election made it slightly easier, though. “It’s nice to be able to say, ‘There are many of us who are great and you can rank more than one of us. It’s not an either-or proposition,” she said.

Noecker agrees that the campaign was more convivial than it would have been in a primary/general election system, and says she remained on friendly terms with her opponents. She said she believed there would be consequences if she was perceived by voters as being negative.

As with the 2013 Minneapolis mayor’s race, however, her race wasn’t free from negative campaigning — it just came from third parties. “The problem is, outside independent groups don’t have to hold to those rules and don’t have the same incentives,” she said. “The race got much uglier than I would have liked.”

Because business organizations that supported her were opposed to mandatory parental leave, for example, the St. Paul Labor Federation sent a mailer accusing her of not being on the side of “new parents”: “Rebecca Noecker: Not on our side. Not even close. Vote No on Rebecca Noecker.” On the other side, the St. Paul Police Federation, the union representing the city’s rank and file police officers, sent attacks on her chief opponent, Darren Tobolt.

Noecker was surprised by one aspect of RCV — something she discovered on the streets, not in any guidebooks. Because voters have second and third choices, they were fair game even when she knew they had committed to one of her opponents. “I door knocked a number of people who had signs up for my opponent,” just to see if would they consider making her their second choice, she said. “The conversation didn’t have to stop because they had already pledged to someone else.”

Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 11:48 am.

    False Claims

    The Fairvote people are still claiming that RCV guarantees majority winners, which is just false. Betsy Hodges got elected with 48.95 percent in 2013. I expect you will see a much lower number than that in 2017.,_2013

    Also remember that the St. Paul better ballot campaign was cited and fined for deliberately misleading voters in getting RCV pass in St. Paul.

    • Submitted by m m on 10/14/2017 - 03:57 am.

      Better with RCV than w o

      we are definitely better off with ranked-choice voting then without it

      • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 10/16/2017 - 07:29 am.


        Your opinion might be more interesting if it had some facts to back it up. I don’t see why we are better off with RCV. Could you elaborate?

        All of the “benefits” don’t add up to much for me. The mythical majority doesn’t really matter much. Once a person is in office, do they gain any legitimacy by having been elected with a majority (however painful the calculations are to get them there)? Does anyone remember a year later what percentage of the vote someone received? The answers are “No” for me.

    • Submitted by William Jacobs on 11/15/2018 - 01:24 pm.

      After the Maine ranked-choice voting, people may be looking at this article.

      Here’s the results of 2017

      ” This year, votes were tallied within a day — compared to two weeks in 2009 and three days in 2013 — despite the highest voter turnout in more than 20 years for a municipal election in the city.”

      Voter turnout? Achieved.

      “Former St. Paul Council Member Melvin Carter was elected mayor Tuesday night, garnering a majority of votes in the first round.”

      Majority – Achieved.

      Prediction: ” I expect you will see a much lower number than that (48.95%) in 2017.”

      Not the case.

  2. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 10/12/2017 - 11:56 am.

    The vast majority of people who use this system like it and prefer it. That well-connected political insiders would claim it only empowers well-connected political insiders is just… well it makes my head hurt. A great example of Orwellian double-speak.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 12:12 pm.


      What is Orwellian is that an organization that flat-out lies to the public and has been cited for knowingly misleading voters is enacting voting policy.

      Voters like RCV until it produces an election result where the winner wasn’t really the winner. Then it gets repealed by angry voters. That hasn’t happened here yet. Maybe we’ll see it in Minneapolis this fall.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/16/2017 - 01:21 pm.


        I’m still irked that a bunch of low-populated states get to decide what the rest of us get to suffer with!

        Seriously, life isn’t fair. Hodges “didn’t win” and there’s been no revolt. The thing is, people thought that RCV would do magic–that is, all by itself, it would increase voter turnout. It doesn’t. Voter turnout is still the job of those running for office. But the benefit of RCV is that if you can’t get them to the polls twice, at least when you get them to the polls once, their choices are more open.

        Honestly, I don’t know if it’s better or not better. Voters like it, and I’d say that we should increase the value to voters. One of the reasons voters don’t show up or don’t care about the outcome is because, for years, their votes DIDN’T count. Because the candidates were essentially chosen by elites, all the things entrenched in the party were wrapped up in the candidates. The only available candidates to the vast majority of voters were selected by a very, very small group, who are more likely to agree with the package of party values handed to them by “the elites”.

        Of course, some would argue that if you’re not willing to participate in the whole process, your voice shouldn’t be the loudest. Maybe. But the system in this country is not set up to make voting terribly accessible. Voting day is not a holiday. Even though you’re supposed to be given time to vote, it’s not terribly realistic since it’s not required to be paid time off, and voting lines can be long, especially in areas where people need to keep their jobs and get as many hours as possible. And forget about hoping for time off for a primary.

        Nor is the system in this country set up to make it easy for you to find good information about candidates and their platforms. Surely, a little grabby-grabby can’t be as bad as a child sex ring out of a pizza shop! Seriously? I submit that showing up to the polls with that much information is no worse than showing up not knowing all of the candidates.

        If RCV can empower voters to really affect politics, then maybe voters will think about how their choices affect their futures and the futures of their children. Maybe they’ll make better choices. Or, maybe RCV will be a distinction without a difference from the status quo. I just really can’t see how it could be worse.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/12/2017 - 12:03 pm.

    The goal of Rank Choice voting was to protect the election of Republican governors in three way races. Since we haven’t had a Republican governor, or a three way race in quite some time, I think RCV has been a success.

    However, if we look at the system more broadly the benefits are less clear cut. RCV, we are told, is structured to discourage negative campaigning and negative voting. That this is a good thing is mostly assumed by it’s proponents without much thought or examination. But the results of this bias are apparent. We have a football stadium looming large in downtown Minneapolis that the voters didn’t want but couldn’t find anyway of preventing because the jury rigged voting system denied them any way of effectively voting against it. As a practical matter, RCV excludes largely negative voters and parties such as the Republican Party from effective participation in our politics. While that makes the professors at the U, and DFL political activists like me happy, somehow there is this guilty sense that somehow democracy isn’t being served. It certainly helps to explain why Ranked Chance Voting is as dead as Aaron Burr anywhere in the country where the two party system is even slightly viable.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/12/2017 - 02:20 pm.

      This is probably one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever seen from Mr. Foster.

      Jury rigged? The Minneapolis City Council supported the stadium after the first use of RCV and nearly all members who voted for it are gone now, the last few of them left could very likely to lose this November.

      DFL dominance in Minneapolis has nothing to do with RCV and if anything, would diminish because of it, not increase. What excludes the Republicans is that most voters in Minneapolis, hate them.

      RCV is not dead. RCV has simply not gained a large enough foothold to be noticed anywhere it is not yet used, and that can change as the zombie method most in use is killed off (How’s that line from the sheriff go in the George Romero original, Night of the Living Dead, go? “Shoot’em between the eyes. Beat’em or burn’em; they go up pretty quick, ya know, they’re dead.”)

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 02:53 pm.


        Actually, people are starting to notice what an abomination RCV is. Duluth figured it out before they got stuck with it, and a number of places that adopted it later repealed it.

        There is a reason RCV advocates have to lie about what RCV does and doesn’t do. Its a (bad) solution in search of a problem.

        • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/12/2017 - 07:46 pm.

          There’s a problem

          The problem in the old city elections and the current system used in most other elections is that winners of a single seat who receive less than 50% of the votes. That’s unhealthy for democracy and undermines governing.

          Almost all state constitutional officers elected between Arne Carlson and Mark Dayton received only a plurality of the votes. Each of them had more people NOT vote for them than vote for them. That’s also happened in quite a few legislative races where three or more candidates are on the November ballot.

          The fact that you don’t like RCV but don’t understand its rules doesn’t mean you have any basis in reality to call advocates liars.

          As for Duluth, a lot of establishment politicians — the ones in power who want to stay there — didn’t want to lose their ability to control multi-seat election outcomes.

          Your “history” about other places lacks the fact that, in most of them, a party who lost some power worked to get rid of an election system that they couldn’t control. It wasn’t always RCV; look at what happened in New York City in the mid-1940s or in Hopkins between the late ’40s and about 1960, for two examples. It was parties who lost power and influence who engineered a return to first past the post elections.

          • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/13/2017 - 09:43 am.

            The problem in the old city elections and the current system used in most other elections is that winners of a single seat who receive less than 50% of the votes. That’s unhealthy for democracy and undermines governing.

            RCV doesn’t change how people think, it changes how we view the way people think. If we have elected officials who don’t have the support of the voters, RCV does literally nothing to change that.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/13/2017 - 11:55 am.

            Again, totally false

            Actually, the prior system in city elections is that the primary produced two finalists, and one of them was guaranteed to get 50 percent of the vote. I don’t know if you are lying or just ignorant of the prior voting system, but your statement is objectively and unequivocably false. Adopting RCV actually DESTROYED the guarantee of a majority winner in city elections. Claiming otherwise is lying.

            It is true that in state races there have been plurality winners, where the majority did not vote for the winner. That is the exact same thing that happened in Minneapolis with Betsy Hodges – a majority of voters did not vote for her. You claim she still had a majority because you discard the votes of the people who did not choose one of the final two. Well, you can do the same thing in the governor elections – throw out the votes for Horner and Penny and other 3rd party candidates and only count the final two – and the winner has a majority.

            I understand the rules just fine. I just don’t believe in disenfranchising voters like you do. If someone cast a valid ballot, their vote should count, even if it wasn’t for one of the top candidates.

            My history includes places like Burlington, Vermont, where a perverse RCV result undermined governing and was terrible for Democracy. That’s why they repealed RCV and returned to an actual democratic system.

        • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/12/2017 - 09:20 pm.

          It’s fine, but

          It’s fine, no matter how many times you run it down online, Mr. Terry, but my favorite voting method is range or score voting, the same sort of way that judges determine winners in athletic performances; that way, I can actually register my displeasure when I vote, assigning low scores to everyone, just a bit higher for those in the group of candidates I want in office.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/13/2017 - 12:07 pm.

            Its fine until it isn’t

            Most of the time, RCV isn’t going to change the result of an election. The problem comes up when it does – and that undermines democracy and leads to RCV getting repealed.

            Burlington, Vermont – which enacted and repealed RCV – also considered range/score voting. There were three candidates in a close race. The three systems FPTP, RCV, and range each produced a different winner. The election result lacked legitimacy, and the voters repealed it. But until there is a disaster of an election like that (we may see one in Minneapolis) no one is going to see a problem with it.

            I’d be less upset about RCV if its advocates were honest. You can’t claim to ensure majority votes when you have to discard valid votes to get a majority. Betsey Hodges got 48.95 percent of validly cast votes. That’s not a majority. The rationale they use to claim a majority is to not count all of the votes that did not go to Hodges or the second place finisher, Mark Andrew. Its as if 20 percent of voters didn’t actually vote.

            I also don’t appreciate RCV advocates lying to the public about something as important as voting. Again, they were cited and fined for knowingly misleading voters to enact RCV in St. Paul.

            • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/14/2017 - 01:55 pm.

              The point is that plurality voting (what we used to use in Minneapolis and Mr. Terry refers to as FPTP, acronym for “first past the post”) results in far more problems than the few and rare ones inherent in ranked choice voting; that’s why RCV is just fine, regardless of Burlington, Vermont repealing it with a margin of only three votes.

              The fact is that a majority is a majority even with exhausted ballots, those ballots with votes for losing candidates not counted in the next rounds and excluded to give what appears to be less than 50% of folks deciding, but when you consider the 34 losers in the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral race, 48.95% will do fine, thank you, because a large number of those “validly cast votes” Mr. Terry is on about were for those among the biggest losers on the planet (I suppose you can count yours truly, in that number).

              Honesty. It is important and I would agree that some of the strategies used to get folks to try out RCV were questionable, but the lies told by those attempting to keep the method they game so easily, overshadow them completely.

              The methods Terry mentions above, “FPTP, RCV, and range,” are ordered from the most to the least problematic in measuring the true intent of the voter. I wish I could figure out why more places have not tried range voting.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/13/2017 - 09:41 am.

        DFL dominance in Minneapolis has nothing to do with RCV and if anything, would diminish because of it, not increase. What excludes the Republicans is that most voters in Minneapolis, hate them.

        The point of RCV is to discourage negative campaigning, which is pretty much how Republicans campaign. It’s why RCV seems to have no appeal at all in areas where there is a genuine two party system.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 10/13/2017 - 11:05 am.

      Partly right but a lot wrong

      RCV is here because people have this crazy idea that you have to have a majority of people vote ‘for’ someone for it to be considered legit. Why does it always have to be a majority? The person who gets the most votes wins. Keep it simple.
      RCV only keeps the prevailing party in charge. Look at Minneapolis for instance. How many Democrats run for their seats? Many because there are a majority of Democrats in Minneapolis than any other party. But when you have so many Democrats run, that dilutes the votes of people that will vote for candidates in that party. Then if you get maybe a Republican, libertarian, socialist, Green Party, or any other, their chances of winning in a straight up election actually increases. So why not stick with something that preserves power in the group you want.
      As for the comments that this is up because of Republicans is just plain nuts. Almost all places where RCV occurs are in liberal strongholds.

  4. Submitted by John Webster on 10/12/2017 - 12:08 pm.

    RCV and 2016 Election

    Ranked choice voting would have had an interesting effect on the 2016 Presidential election. We’ve heard a zillion times that Hillary “won” the popular vote by about 2.9 million votes. What she won was a plurality – NOT a majority. If you whittle the top five vote-getters down to two, you’re left with Hillary and Trump. Next, assign the more right-wing voters among the eliminated candidates to Trump, and the more left-wing voters to Hillary. What results is a statistical dead heat. The unknown factor is the votes for write-in candidates which totaled over 1 million: who knows how they would have voted in a RCV two-person race.

    The best, non-partisan conclusion is that a Hillary vs. Trump RCV popular vote election would have been very close to a tie, with the actual winner impossible to determine with any solid evidence.

    P.S. Another interesting tidbit from BallotPedia. Republican candidates for the U.S. House in 2016 received 49.13% of total votes cast; Democratic candidates won 48.03%. The popular vote difference was just over 1.4 million in favor of Republicans.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 12:27 pm.


      You would also need to have a national popular vote, which is a far more important voting reform than RCV, which isn’t reform at all.

      But again, contrary to the false claims of RCV advocates, RCV does not ensure majority winners.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/16/2017 - 01:32 pm.

      And yet

      While Republican candidates to the US House only got 49% of total votes, they hold 55% of seats in the US House. Something’s broken. It’s not hard to look to the three-fifths compromise to begin to understand that it was designed to be broken. Our democracy is the laughing stock of all the democracies we forcibly set up.

  5. Submitted by Paul Wochnick on 10/12/2017 - 12:18 pm.

    California may have the solution

    I think California has stumbled onto a solution that eliminates the confusion of RV but also eliminates the issue of a small amount of voters choosing the candidate when one party dominates. They have kept the primary-general election cycle but in the primary the top two candidates go on to the general election regardless of party.

  6. Submitted by Josh Lease on 10/12/2017 - 12:29 pm.


    I think one of the most important things to look at is whether RCV has actually achieved any of its stated goals, the things we were promised would happen. The answer from my perspective is “No”.

    Has turnout increased? nope. (In Saint Paul, for the first open seat mayoral race in who knows how long turnout is not looking good at all.)

    Has negative campaigning decreased? Not even a little. Mark Andrew is right, it just comes from different sources. 3rd parties, who were doing most of the attacks anyways, are even more important for this trick. Beyond that, this article nails it: there’s little incentive to differentiate yourself from other candidates and demonstrate clear choices, or set an agenda. The best strategy is to have people think someone else is the front-runner, get one of your other opponents to lead the attacks against that perceived front-runner, and tell everyone else’s supporters you’re a safe second choice. How is that to the good?

    Is it producing majority-supported candidates? Nope. (see above)

    Has it reduced the influence of party insiders? Not really. It’s just changed the calculation. It’s even more important in a 1-party town to ensure as a candidate that either you get the endorsement or no one does. Since RCV makes it even easier to roll through to election day, there’s no incentive for a candidate to drop out if there’s no endorsement, even if they have little real support. Generating that insider support is even more important without a coalescing event like a primary, and to handle an endorsement.

    RCV is intellectually appealing. But it’s promised a lot and delivered basically nothing. Interest in municipal elections in Mpls & Saint Paul (which both have RCV) is so low that that there is a serious drive to change the dates to line them up with state/federal elections. There might be a message there, regardless of what an exit poll says.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/12/2017 - 12:59 pm.

    Aside from touchy-feely claims like “nice” campaigns under RCV, the Big Kahuna Question is how to get voters engaged, so they actually vote and vote intelligently.

    RCV fails at that, despite loud and persistent promises. (Let’s not talk about their assurances of always coming up with a winner who has an actual “majority” of votes–no matter how low on the ranking their voters had them.)

    A big problem is that, without a primary, there are simply too many candidates running for offices like Mayor. Nothing sifts them to a Top Two, which a primary (even an RCV primary) would do, so voters look at a long and indistinguishable list of candidates. They get discouraged and uninterested in working really hard to be informed about which candidates are viable, even acceptable. They then don’t bother to vote.

    They are thus “unrepresented.” And the most unrepresented are minority communities. They don’t bother to vote, whether it’s a primary or a general election. RCV makes that problem worse.

    And incidentally: RCV is meant to enhance the possibility of a non-top-two candidate (from a non-major party) getting elected. Doesn’t matter of that’s Greens or Socialists or somebody else. RCV does not help elect DFL or GOP candidates, with or without party endorsements, for RCV really has the goal of eliminating political parties as electoral strengths in the USA. That’s why RCV advocates have made solid attempt to demonize “party activists,” as if political activism were some Bad Thing, and eliminate the chance for small numbers of voters to choose candidates in primaries, in the fake name of representationality..

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/12/2017 - 01:28 pm.

      Primary clarity? Fiction about RCV.

      “A big problem is that, without a primary, there are simply too many candidates running for offices like Mayor.”

      So if the same number of candidates run in a primary, why isn’t THAT too many candidates for the poor, confused, can’t-focus voters? Answer: If it’s one, it’s the other.

      But voters aren’t at all as dense as RCV opponents such as Ms. Sullivan seem to think.
      — — —
      “RCV is meant to enhance the possibility of a non-top-two candidate (from a non-major party) getting elected. … RCV does not help elect DFL or GOP candidates, with or without party endorsements, for RCV really has the goal of eliminating political parties as electoral strengths in the USA.”

      Total fiction. RCV has no partisan slant. This claim about purported goals and intentions is a total fabrication spun from air. Cite a source for your claims.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 01:53 pm.


        If you want fiction about RCV, go read the Fairvote website. Even now – despite the 2013 Minneapolis mayor election – Fairvote is still making the blatantly false claim that RCV produces majority winners.

        • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/12/2017 - 02:49 pm.

          How RCV works

          The rounds of vote counting in an RCV election actually are like a series of runoff elections — hence the other name, Instant Runoff Voting. The difference is that voters mark ballots only once instead of some of them returning to the polling place multiple times. (Actual runoff elections /always/ have significantly lower turnout than the general election they follow. See data from Georgia, for example.)

          The result in the final round of counting WILL have a majority winner. Ballots that become exhausted are the equivalent of voters who don’t (come back to) vote in a later runoff.

          As I understand it, what limits Minneapolis voters from ranking more than three candidates for a given office is the lack of certified counting software. That’s neither a feature of Ranked Choice Voting nor a choice Minneapolis made, but it is an impediment to voters’ full expression of choices. It’s a problem that ought to be corrected, and soon.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 03:33 pm.


            That kind of twisted logic demonstrates just how terrible RCV is. You achieve a majority only by discarding the votes of people who showed up and cast valid ballots, but did not vote for the right candidates. You achieve a “majority” only by disenfranchising voters.

            In the 2013 Minneapolis mayor’s race, the final ballot came down to Betsy Hodges and Mark Andrew. After re-allocation, Hodges got 48.95 percent of the vote and Andrew got 31.44. That means nearly 20 percent of people who cast valid ballots that did not name either Hodges or Andrew. By your logic, its as if those 20 percent did not vote at all. Their valid votes are discarded because they did not choose popular candidates. That is absolutely perverse.

            The reason you want to have majority winners in the first place is so that the winner reflects the will of the people. But if you have to discard the will of 20 percent of the voters to say you have a “majority” you haven’t achieved that. 51 percent of people who cared enough to vote chose Andrew or somebody other than Hodges.

            And the problem won’t be fixed by expanding the names on the ballot. It would only be fixed by compelling every voter to rank all the candidates. That would mean that I would have to rank a candidate no matter how racist or offensive they might be, and my vote could go to that candidate through re-allocation. Sorry, but you can’t do that. And Minneapolis had something like 35 candidates on the ballot last time around. How many pages would that RCV ballot be if you could rank them all? Its absurd. Its a problem that can’t be fixed. The failure to ensure majority winners is not a problem with the ballots – its a fundamental flaw with RCV.

            Majority means that you got more than 50 percent of the validly cast ballots. End of story. If you have to discard valid ballots to get a majority, then you don’t have a majority. Claiming otherwise is just plain lying.

            • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 10/13/2017 - 10:23 am.

              Ranking and voting aren’t compulsory

              Under what non-authoritarian theory would you compel people either to rank more candidates than they want or to vote at all?

              If Minneapolis (and St. Paul) would fix the software issues, then a voter could rank as many — or as few — candidates as s/he wants to … that means voluntarily. Nobody’s ballot would be “discarded”. If a voter voluntarily ranks only candidates who are eliminated under the election rules, then it’s the voter’s choice. If no candidate remains to be counted on a ballot — because of the voter’s voluntary choices — then exactly what do you propose to count?

              The problem in 2013 for Mayor was the limitation of the ballot design caused by the lack of counting software and the decisions Minneapolis made, combined with the long list of candidates, many of whom weren’t serious. It wasn’t because of how Ranked Choice Voting is supposed to work.

              If your preference is the old “most votes wins” (first past the post, or FPTP) elections, then majority means what you claim. But you’ve illogically twisted the language by using FPTP definitions in Ranked Choice Voting elections. You’re entitled to your preference to FPTP elections, but that’s not reality when we vote for Minneapolis and St. Paul city offices.

              • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/13/2017 - 11:59 am.


                Its clear that its you who don’t understand RCV. The only way to solve the majority problem is to have compulsory voting. I’m glad you don’t support that, but it also means that you can’t solve the majority problem with more choices.

                “Majority” means the same thing no matter what system you have. If you have to discard valid votes to get a majority, then you don’t have one.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/12/2017 - 03:36 pm.

            One more thing

            You compare voters who are “exhausted” to voters who don’t come back for a later runoff. But those runoff voters get a choice of whether to come back. Under your theory, the voters don’t get that choice. Because they voted for the “wrong” people, they are disenfranchised.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/13/2017 - 09:46 am.

        Total fiction. RCV has no partisan slant.

        It does. Republicans have a mostly negative view of politics. A system which is structured to de-emphasize that view and the ability of voters to reflect that view when voting most definitely has a partisan slant. It’s why Republicans universally oppose Ranked Choice Voting. And as a practical matter, I am not a fan of changes in the voting laws that don’t have bipartisan support.

        • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 10/13/2017 - 11:16 am.

          Republicans don’t have a monopoly on being negative

          The constant attacks on Republicans goes to show that Republicans are not the only ones who can be negative. Just watch the ads that go out.
          As for Republicans on voting is that they fight every Democratic urge to expand voting that makes it too easy for illegal ballots to enter in our system. Doing that delegitimizes those who properly vote.

        • Submitted by Howard Penrose on 10/14/2017 - 11:39 pm.

          Republicans in Utah and in Alaska have looked to enact RCV

          You are wrong. Republicans benefit from RCV when there are multiple right-wing candidates in a contest who split the vote — for instance a Libertarian and a Republican hurting each other in a general election, which helps the Democrat win. Do a web search for Utah and Alaska Republicans and Ranked Choice Voting. You’ll find many Republicans speaking in favor.

  8. Submitted by Walt Cygan on 10/12/2017 - 03:22 pm.

    Really despise RCV

    One function of the primary that has been lost is that it signaled to voters that it was time to get engaged in the process. Even if someone didn’t vote in the primary, there was media coverage and people could start learning about the candidates. Now with everything crammed into the time before the single election, that ramp-up time for people to start paying attention has been lost.

    It is also ridiculous that the votes can’t get counted on the same night as the election. The software to do the counting is not that difficult to write, but apparently the certification process for testing the software is quite elaborate. How many days did it take in 2013 to count the ballots? Does anyone know if the process will be any better this year, other than the fact that there are fewer candidates?

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/13/2017 - 07:11 am.


    Is anyone happy with the state of Minneapolis elections?

    The way it looks to me is that we have a multi candidate lottery, full of candidates unwilling to define themselves and there opponents out of fear of being perceived as negative. Calling it a dog’s breakfast would be an insult to dogs.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/13/2017 - 12:25 pm.


    When we read what supporters of RCV have to say about it, one comes away with the sense that it has the magical property of doing everything that is wonderful, and nothing that isn’t. It’s complete elasticity, at least in the view of it’s supporters is amazing. But as people often inform me, I am not very bright, and what I lack in intelligence, I make up in ignorance. And I am totally unable to keep one idea in my mind at any given time.

    What’s the big idea of Ranked Choice Voting?

    I think it’s the notion that minority voices, voices with considerable support among voters but which fall short of a plurality, deserve representation in our legislative bodies. Without necessarily agreeing with that, I view that as an entirely reasonable view. A legislature composed in that way wouldn’t be unfair, and it might be fairer than the one that gets elected under the status quo. But is Ranked Choice Voting really the best way to achieve that goal, if that’s a goal we want? Where the vote for mayor is concerned, RCV is irrelevant to the goal. There is only one mayor. We can’t really divide up the job and portion it out to different candidates who performed well. I think the better application is to the legislature, and the more direct solution is proportional representation. This system is widely used in parliamentary democracies throughout the world. It’ not without it’s flaws but no system is flawless. Instead of giving people the right to lose elections in slightly different ways, it gives minority voters an actual voice in governing, which is what they really want, and might be what they really need and deserve.

    • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 10/13/2017 - 01:11 pm.


      How would RCV help achieve proportional representation? Each legislative district is only represented by one person. The only way to proportional representation would be to have a statewide party preference vote and come up with a way to assign a certain number of seats to each party, and then somehow have the parties or some algorithm determine which candidates would be seated.

      Adding RCV to the current legislative district races would do nothing to help increase the number of minority voices. It would just serve to make the process intolerable. What if your House race had 14 candidates and your Senate race had 18? I suppose the Governor’s race would also use RCV, so in the years when all of the races were on the ballot, we might have an additional 12 candidates for Governor. Then there would be all of the additional statewide races. How would an average vote reasonably be expected to wade through all of the data about the vast number of possible candidates?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/13/2017 - 05:28 pm.

      Not the same

      RCV and proportional representation are two totally different concepts.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/16/2017 - 08:08 am.

        My point is that what RCV voters want is to give minority but not plurality voters a voice in government. RCV doesn’t do that actually because no matter how you rig the race, only one horse will reach the finish line first. Proportional representation means that people who have substantial support, but not plurality support will be elected and represent minority concerns in legislative bodies. Now I am not saying that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. That’s an issue for further discussion.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/14/2017 - 07:55 am.

    How would RCV help achieve proportional representation?

    It doesn’t of course. It tends to give minority voters more of a voice in elections, but elections themselves are still winner take all affairs. It doesn’t solve the problem large minority voters which just aren’t distributed in a way that results in a legislative body that reflects their views. For many decades this was a problem in Britain, where the liberal vote is distributed throughout the country in such a way that elections always result in the election of Parliamaents wher the Liberal vote is underrepresented.

    Proportional representation has it’s own set of problems, and I am not necessarily endorsing it, but the point is that it gives minority voters a role in governing, not just in elections. Isn’t that, as much as anything, Ranked Choice Voting is aiming at?

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/16/2017 - 08:13 am.

    Political activism

    I am intensely involved in elections. With our two year election cycles, I am either working on campaigns, or waiting to work on campaigns. But what people like me need to be reminded of is that while elections are important, what matters is how the people we elect actually govern. I really and truly don’t believe that fiddling with the election system is going to make America, or even Minneapolis greater. I do believe, naively perhaps, that working with your candidate, and the folks we actually do get elected can make things better.

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