"Winners" in politics should get more than 50 percent of the vote, even when there are more than two candidates. But in a three-way, hotly contested primary this week to determine the DFL candidate in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, the vote came in at 38.3 percent for former Congressman Rick Nolan, 32.3 percent for former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and 29.4 percent for former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson.
Leading up to the election, voters talked about who they'd vote for or wouldn't vote for based more on "playing the odds" than who their favorite candidate was. They feared wasting their vote or actually helping the candidate they liked the least by taking a vote away from the wrong opponent.
What was worse was the way candidates seemed forced into the practice of competing against one another as either "all good" or "all bad." That was a real shame because all three were fine and proven DFL public servants, and the winner, whoever it would have wound up being, deserved to advance to the next stage, knowing they were backed by a majority of party voters.
Even a novice organizer knows that the best organizations are inclusive, transparent and make people feel like they are playing a real part. That's why I hope we will soon implement a system where each of us can rank our favorite candidates using ranked-choice voting, a system already in use in Minneapolis and St. Paul and under consideration in Duluth. It's a system supported by all three of the 8th District DFL candidates.
There are reasons ranked-choice voting should be promoted at the state level, not the least of which is to raise the bar on campaigning while encouraging real debate, real comparisons between candidates and a real winner who emerges with the support of more than half of the voters -- even when there are three or more candidates on the ballot.
As a voter, I want to show my support in a more accurate way. "Playing the odds" is bad for both political parties and our democracy. Candidates, I imagine, would be left in a better position to motivate voters in November as a result of ranked-choice voting. Candidates also would be better informed on how to lead the district and, ultimately, better armed for the big contest knowing how more than 50 percent of votes actually came to be theirs.
Liz Johnson of Duluth is a veteran community organizer who has been involved with FairVote initiatives for eight years.