Attention, Minneapolis and St. Paul voters: That’s no ordinary ballot you’ll be handed at your polling place on Tuesday — or sooner, if you take advantage of early voting. In-person absentee voting is available Sunday near City Hall in downtown Minneapolis and Monday at four locations in St. Paul.
Your city election uses ranked-choice voting, or RCV. That means you’ll mark your choices on what might be deemed a “superballot.” It’s an instrument that affords you considerably more ability to influence the election’s outcome than voters had in pre-RCV elections.
RCV allows voters to express up to three choices in Minneapolis and six in St. Paul. After the polls close, first-choice votes are tabulated; if one candidate has a majority of those votes, he or she is the winner. If no candidate has a majority, a second round of counting occurs, with the second choices counted on ballots whose first-choice candidate finished last in round one. That method of sorting and recounting continues until one candidate achieves a majority. (Check http://strib.mn/2lI8obA for an interactive illustration of how RCV ballots are counted.)
RCV came to Minneapolis in the 2009 election; in St. Paul, it was first used in 2013. It’s no longer a novelty, but it’s not yet old hat. Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked about RCV in recent weeks, and our best shot at answers:
• Will I hurt my first-choice candidate’s chances if I mark a second and third choice? No. Your ballot will count as a vote for your first-choice candidate as long as that candidate remains in the running — that is, capable of achieving a majority vote. Your second choice will be tallied only if your first-choice candidate has been eliminated; your third choice will be tallied only if both your first- and second-choice candidates are out of the running.
• I have one strong preference among the candidates. Should I bother to mark a second choice? You need not do so. Your vote for your favorite will count as long as he or she has not been eliminated. But if you fear that could happen and you have a preference for one or more of the others in the field, you’re well-served to mark additional choices. That way, you’ll be taking full advantage of the clout your “superballot” affords.
• Will I help my favorite candidate if I make him or her my first, second and third choice? No. The effect will be the same as if you’d left the second- and third-choice options blank. As Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl puts it, “You will have weakened your ballot.”
• Does ranked voting give an unpopular candidate a better chance to win? Only if that “unpopular” candidate is in fact the second choice of a great many of the voters whose first choices were lagging vote-getters and therefore were eliminated from contention. We’d say such a candidate is actually the consensus choice.
One can argue that RCV lessens the likelihood that a candidate who appeals to a minority of the electorate will be elected. Under the traditional voting method, low-turnout primary elections often allowed a very small fraction of the electorate to select two candidates who would advance to the general election. The larger the field — and the list of candidates in city primaries was often quite long — the greater the chances that a candidate with a small but motivated base of support would be among the two top vote-getters in the primary. Candidates with broader but less-motivated support could be left behind.
RCV eliminates primary elections. It puts all the action in the general election, where turnout is typically higher. It does not guarantee that the winner will be elected with a 50-percent-plus-one majority. For example, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges won in 2013 with 48.9 percent of the final tally in a 35-candidate field. But RCV showed that Hodges had amassed the largest coalition of support.
• Does ranked-choice voting depress turnout? Its critics say so, arguing that voters who find it confusing opt to stay away. But the RCV experience in Minneapolis suggests otherwise: Nearly 10,000 more votes were cast in 2013 than in 2005, the last non-RCV election.
Some RCV advocates say the opposite is true. People are more inclined to vote when they know they’ve got a real chance to determine the outcome. That’s what RCV provides. We hope voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul prove that point right.