In a little more than a month, we’ll know whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will serve as our next president.
As it appears now, neither will receive a majority of votes. Ballots cast in favor of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will prevent that.
So for the fourth time in seven presidential elections, a president will be elected without 50 percent of the votes.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence in elections. But there is another way. It’s called ranked choice voting, and it’s already being used in nations such as Ireland and Australia, and in cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul. Other Minnesota cities including Duluth and Red Wing are also giving it a close look.
Advocates, including an organization known as FairVote Minnesota, contend ranked choice voting offers several advantages over the current system. Benefits include eliminating costly primary elections, increasing voter participation, and stimulating more efficient, civil and representative elections.
In our current election process, “what happens is the most extreme Democrat and the most extreme Republican candidates end up running but they don’t represent the average Joe on the street,” explained Carl “Buzz” Cummins, a board member of FairVote Minnesota.
Here’s how ranked choice voting works: Let’s say three candidates are vying for City Council: Mike, Brian and Mary. The first benefit is there will be no need for a primary election, saving thousands of taxpayer dollars.
When the general election arrives, the ballot will enable voters to choose their first preference for office as well as their subsequent preferences.
In our fictitious election of 10,000 voters, Mike receives 4,000 votes (40 percent), Brian receives 1,800 (18 percent) and Mary receives 4,200 (42 percent).
To arrive at a consensus, the election eliminates the last-place candidate, Brian, and allocates his next-preference votes.
In our fictitious election, Brian’s 1,800 votes are split three ways. One thousand of his voters selected Mary as their second preference, 700 selected Mike as their second, and 100 of the votes are exhausted because voters did not mark a second preference. After reallocation, Mary comes out on top with 5,200 votes, Mike receives 4,700 votes, and 100 votes are exhausted. Mary wins the election with 52 percent of the vote.
In ranked choice voting, according to Mr. Cummins, voters know they are sending into office a winner that “a majority of them felt was worth voting for.”
Yet another advantage, Mr. Cummins said, is “it generally reduces negative campaigning because when each of those candidates goes door to door, they tend to talk more about their similarities with the other candidates than their differences.”
Such discussions “enable a dialog to occur,” Mr. Cummins said, because candidates want to be voters’ second choice if they can’t be their first.
Ranked choice voting has cross-partisan support, both statewide and locally. Among the proponents is Sen. Scott Newman, who sponsored a 2016 bill that would give cities, counties and school districts the freedom to use ranked-choice voting if they wish.
Minnesota’s 107 charter cities already have the freedom to make the switch whenever they want. The other 747 “general law” cities would need Sen. Newman’s bill to pass to adopt ranked choice voting.
One key advantage Hutchinson’s Republican senator likes is the ability to engage more people in the military in elections. Remote choice voting offers a more convenient and reliable method of casting absentee ballots from, remote, overseas locations.
“If local officials want their communities to make it easier for deployed service members to participate in elections, the Legislature should support this,” he said in materials distributed by FairVote Minnesota.
Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon calls the ranked choice voting local options bill “sort of a Goldilocks option — it’s just right.”
In the Minnesota House, Rep. Ann Rest, a Democrat from New Hope, is the bill’s chief author. She calls ranked choice voting “simply common sense.”
It seems the only folks who fiercely oppose the legislation are Old Guard politicians. “The biggest group of opponents are the traditional politicians who like to run negative campaign,” Mr. Cummins said.
Ranked choice voting might work well in Hutchinson. But first, the Charter Commission and City Council would have to get on board. We encourage both to explore it. We hope they will discuss the option with members of the Red Wing Charter Commission, who have already endorsed it.
In an era when voters are exhausted from negative campaigning, divisiveness and general political dysfunction, it appears ranked choice voting has much to offer.