Remember back in the winter of 2014 when the Duluth City Council used an emerging new voting method called ranked-choice to pick a new councilor? After multiple rounds of voting, and then more rounds, a winner emerged. Or was it a tie? Despite clear confusion and uncertainty — and even a recess so an expert could be telephoned for help — a new councilor was appointed. Two days later, in a memo in response to lingering questions about the mess, the Duluth city clerk and Duluth city attorney referred to ranked-choice as “a complicated vote-counting method that many people do not understand clearly."
Or want to use, apparently. Remember in 2015, in the city election, when Duluth voters overwhelmingly rejected ranked-choice by a stunning nearly three-to-one margin? How often do we agree so convincingly on anything?
But ranked-choice voting just won’t go away.
Touting it once again as a more-modern, fairer alternative (to what, simple counting?), supporters are pushing the confounding creation this session at the Minnesota Legislature. Companion bills in the House and Senate would implement ranked-choice for state and federal elections and allow more of Minnesota’s local jurisdictions to use it. Only 15% of Minnesota cities currently have the option.
Proponents argue the voting method promotes civility. Apparently, even the sort of political divisiveness that led to the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6 can be magically fixed by simply letting voters rank in order of preference as many as 20 or more candidates per race. Would we be “rankers” then instead of “voters?”
More candidates doesn’t mean better ballot choices. The crowded fields of unknowns, marginal candidates, and legitimate contenders now souring voters from participating in primaries could become the only option under ranked-choice voting. Would voters take the time and do the work to consider so many candidates? How can the media and others who vet candidates be able to do so thoroughly or fairly?
Many of the cities that have used ranked-choice voting — or tried it before abandoning it — haven’t experienced better voter turnout, as the News Tribune Editorial Board determined in 2015. The board conducted interviews then with those both for and against the voting method, carried out independent research, and even co-sponsored a public forum. Competitive races and quality candidates are far more effective in fueling voter turnout, it was determined. Eliminating primaries, which ranked-choice voting could do in some elections, would only take away another opportunity for voters to get involved.
If the state adopts ranked-choice voting, we could be left voting two different ways on Election Days: the traditional one-vote-for-one-candidate way in local races and the ranked way in state and federal races, with rounds of balloting and counting eliminating candidates one by one.
A resulting lack of understanding of the rounds of vote-counting could leave the validity of election results in question, especially when races are close. After allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, the last thing needed now is a reason for Minnesotans to doubt an election process long seen here as valid and with trustworthy outcomes.
“Election results should not come out of an algorithm, and that's what (ranked-choice voting) would be," was the way Duluth City Councilor Zack Filipovich stated it in an interview in 2015 with Editorial Board members.
Lawmakers this session can follow those Duluth voters of six years ago who so overwhelmingly — and so wisely — rejected confusion and uncertainty in the name of elections they could trust.