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Duluth voters will decide whether to adopt ranked-choice voting

Duluth's voters will decide this November whether to revamp the way the city handles future elections. City Clerk Jeff Cox validated a petition Monday calling for an amendment to Duluth's charter that would adopt a ranked-choice voting system for...

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Voting in Duluth (2012 file / News Tribune)
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Duluth's voters will decide this November whether to revamp the way the city handles future elections.

City Clerk Jeff Cox validated a petition Monday calling for an amendment to Duluth's charter that would adopt a ranked-choice voting system for municipal elections.

Cox verified the signatures of 2,036 local registered voters on a petition submitted in support of ranked-choice voting. That's well in excess of the 1,606 signatures required to bring the matter to a public vote. The city charter sets the minimum threshold at 5 percent of the 32,123 total local ballots cast during the last general state election.

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.

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If a simple majority of voters in November support ranked-choice voting, Duluth will shift to the new system, which could eliminate the need for primary elections in the future.

In June 2014, the Duluth City Council narrowly rejected a resolution in support of exploring ranked-choice voting, prompting the petition drive that now will ultimately lead to a decision in November.

At Large City Councilor Zack Filipovich said he personally does not support ranked-choice voting but recognizes the right of citizens to decide for themselves what they think of the system.

"I've always said this decision should be citizen-driven," he said.

"This is how the process should work. It should not be from the top down," Filipovich said, explaining his prior opposition to a council resolution that would have directed the city charter commission to pursue a ranked-choice voting initiative.

"I have many misgivings about ranked-choice voting," Filipovich said. "I don't think it does what supporters claim it does, and I think there are better ways to encourage voter participation than by making elections more complicated."

At Large Councilor Linda Krug describes herself as a supporter of ranked-choice voting, which she views as a way to restore more civility to local politics. She praised organizers for their successful petition drive.

"We'll have to see what happens now if they can be successful in their community education efforts. We're already starting to see the anti-ranked-choice people getting more active," Krug said.

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Minneapolis has been using ranked-choice voting since 2009.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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