A Minnesota nonprofit group advocating for ranked-choice voting will start airing television commercials in the Duluth market today - the first TV spots for the group, which already has poured more than $70,000 into its Duluth campaign and continues to up the ante.
Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, said the ads aren't tailored exclusively to Duluth, where voters in November are slated to decide whether to adopt ranked-choice voting for city elections.
"They'll have their first roll-out in Duluth, but they certainly won't be used only in Duluth," she said of the television spots.
Massey predicted the promos will prove a versatile tool to extoll the benefits of ranked-choice voting.
"The ads were created generically. They can go anywhere," she said.
Massey said it should come as no surprise that FairVote Minnesota has taken a keen interest in the pending Duluth vote regarding ranked-choice voting.
"We're a statewide organization, so our role and mission is to promote better voting systems, and wherever those conversations are taking place across the state, we support those efforts naturally," she said.
But 2nd District Duluth City Councilor Joel Sipress, a vocal opponent to ranked-choice voting, expressed concerns about FairVote Minnesota's efforts to influence local voters.
"I have no idea why a Twin Cities-based organization is spending so much money to influence a local election," Sipress said. "By the time they're done, they'll probably spend more than both mayoral candidates, combined."
Massey said FairVote's efforts should not be confused with the local Better Ballot Campaign, urging Duluth voters to support ranked-choice voting.
"The ads don't even talk about the Better Ballot Campaign, nor do they ask voters to take a position on it. They simply educate voters about the value of ranked-choice voting. So there's a distinction between FairVote Minnesota and the campaign. These ads are not the campaign's ads. These are FairVote Minnesota's ads," she said.
Sipress still bridled at the organization's spending on ads and lawn signs.
"Most people in Duluth don't like big-money outside interests coming into the community and telling us what to do," he said.
Massey suggested Sipress was mischaracterizing her organization's efforts.
"FairVote Minnesota is a statewide organization. It has membership in Duluth. It has a board member in Duluth. It is, in part, Duluth. So, in that way there is nothing odd about the support we might provide to a local endeavor around a local ballot measure," she said.
Massey also said FairVote Minnesota operates completely above-board.
"We disclose. We filed the campaign finance reports, as we should do," she said.
"There's full disclosure of who we are, what we do and why we do it. There's no dark money, as he might call it. That's just nonsense," she said.
Ranked-choice voting enables voters to support multiple candidates in order of preference. With a ranked-choice voting system, voters are asked to pick their first-, second- and third-choice candidates to serve in public office. The first-choice votes are then tallied, with the lowest-placing candidates eliminated one by one.
When candidates are knocked out of the race, their supporters' second- and even third-choice votes come into play as they are allocated to the remaining candidates. As soon as any candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she is declared the winner in a one-seat race.
In a multi-seat race, the secondary votes of a winner's surplus supporters also are applied to the remaining candidates to determine who should get any remaining seats.
With ranked-choice voting, no primary is required.