Lunch, RCV, and the Zenith City

06.06.14 Post by Ian Kantonen


Are you hungry? Imagine yourself sitting at a restaurant, craving some lasagna. But, if they don’t have any, spaghetti and meatballs would be just fine. What you really hate is fish. This conversation follows:

“Lasagna, please.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have any. You’ll have to have our salmon.”
“Do you have spaghetti instead?”
“You can’t go back and order spaghetti now, you already asked for lasagna. I’m sorry, but you’re getting fish.”

We all know this is absurd. No restaurant would ever operate like this. So why do we vote like this?

We encounter choices in our life every day. What do we want for lunch? What kind of movie should we watch? In all facets of our life we have choice, choice, choice. Voting, on the other hand, is stuck in the past. Voters don’t get to choose. It’s usually Candidate A or Candidate B.

Fortunately, a new, innovative way of voting is being proposed at this very moment, right here in Duluth. It’s called Ranked Choice Voting, or RCV. Cities around the world are using it. Right here in Minnesota, St. Paul and Minneapolis have successfully implemented the new system. San Francisco has used it since 2004. Ireland, Australia and the city of London all use RCV. Duluth has the chance to become a national leader and help lead voting into the 21st century.

Ranked Choice Voting is very simple. You rank your candidates first, second or third. Once the votes are in, all the first place votes are counted. If a candidate has a majority, the count ends. If not, the last place candidate is eliminated. Everyone who voted for the last place person will have their second place votes counted. This keeps going until someone has more than 50 percent: A majority.

According to an independent study conducted by St. Cloud State University, 95 percent of Minneapolis voters found RCV easy to use. So voters have found the new system easy to understand.

RCV gives all voters a say. In the current system, candidates are chosen by a small group of voters in primaries. Most voters don’t have the time to spend a day electing a candidate, and RCV eliminates the primary process. That means voters will only have to go to the polls once: on election day. And they will have a chance to evaluate all the candidates rather than the ones pre-selected for them. It’s also cheaper to have one election rather than two.

RCV gives voters a chance to vote with their heart. Voters wouldn’t have to worry about “splitting the vote” and helping the opposition — the “spoiler” problem. Right now, voters will abstain from voting for who they want to win because it might take votes away from the candidate with the best chance of beating the opposition. In RCV, voters don’t have to worry. If their candidate loses, their second place vote is counted. So, you can vote for the person you want to win and the person you think can win. That means you can vote for Councilor Lasagna and Councilor Spaghetti and not worry about electing Councilor Salmon by splitting the pasta vote.

RCV represents the majority. To win, a candidate must have a majority of votes. In the current system, this isn’t the case. Let’s say five people ran for a single seat. Someone could win with 30 percent of the votes. Now, let’s say the other 70 percent hated this candidate, but they all voted for different people. Does the winner accurately reflect that 70 percent of the city hates the candidate? No.

RCV keeps candidates focused on issues rather than attacking their opponents. If they can’t win your first vote, candidates will ask you for your second or third vote. This greatly reduces partisanship. Elections will become a more positive, engaging experience. Duluth has the chance to adopt Ranked Choice Voting. Duluth has a chance to open the political process to everyone. It has a chance to be a national leader in democracy. Does Duluth want a fixed menu of the same old food, or an opportunity to choose what it wants — à la carte?

Masters of Advocacy and Political Leadership, 2014 Graduate

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