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Local View: A rank choice: Duluth to vote on how to vote

Ranking is undemocratic, confusing and disruptive This Nov. 3, Duluth voters will be asked whether to radically change the way their votes are cast and counted in future city elections by using a preferential system of voting called ranked-choice...

Andrew Cilek

Ranking is undemocratic, confusing and disruptive

This Nov. 3, Duluth voters will be asked whether to radically change the way their votes are cast and counted in future city elections by using a preferential system of voting called ranked-choice voting.
This method of voting is undemocratic, confusing and disruptive. It should be opposed by anyone who values citizen-run government.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates by preference rather than vote for only one. If no one receives 51 percent of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest first-choice total is eliminated and the secondary votes cast for that candidate are transferred to the remaining candidates. This is repeated until a so-called majority is achieved.
This is undemocratic because some ballots carry more weight than others. Ranked-choice voting only allows the votes cast for so-called “defeated” candidates to be transferred and recounted. This means that some voters get their first- and second-choice votes counted while others have only their first-choice votes counted.
Consider a ranked-choice voting election with three candidates, A, B and C. Candidate A receives 40 first-choice votes, candidate B receives 35 and candidate C receives 25. Since no candidate received 51 percent of the first-choice vote, candidate C is eliminated and those 25 ballots are recounted for second-choice votes and a total is then re-tallied. If 16 of those votes go to candidate B and 9 go to candidate A, then candidate B is declared the winner with 51 votes. In this example, those voters who preferred candidate C had their first and their second choices counted while the voters who preferred candidate A had only their first choice counted.
In 1913, a slightly different preferential voting method was adopted in Duluth. It was called the Bucklin method, and it was ruled unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court.  In that case, Brown v. Smallwood, the court said, “We do right in upholding the right of the citizen to cast a vote for the candidate of his choice unimpaired by the second and additional choice votes cast by others.”
Ranked-choice voting has yet another major flaw. It is confusing. This ranking system of voting disenfranchises voters by putting them in the position of not knowing whether they are helping or hurting the candidate they support.
Mathematicians, voting experts and the Minnesota Supreme Court have recognized that in ranked-choice voting, a voter cannot be sure that his or her vote for a candidate will help, rather than hurt, that candidate. In ranked-choice voting, a voter can actually harm his preferred candidate simply by ranking that candidate first instead of second.
For example, in a recent ranked-choice voting election in Aspen, Colo., Democrat council candidate Michael Behrendt was defeated by 75 of his own supporters. Two independent experts calculated that if Behrendt had the foresight to ask between 71 and 79 of his supporters to rank him second instead of first, he would have won.
Following Minneapolis’s inaugural use of ranked-choice voting in 2009, the city paid $50,000 for St. Cloud State University to study how well it worked. The university asked voters who participated whether they understood ranked-choice voting and listed results according to the education level of the respondents.
Amazingly, only 69 percent of the folks who did not have a high school diploma said they fully understood ranked-choice voting while even fewer, 55 percent who had graduate-level degrees said they fully understood it. Those numbers tell us a huge fraction of voters didn’t know how their votes were being counted and, even more revealing, that the more education voters had the more confused ranked-choice voting made them.
Ranked-choice voting is also disruptive. In a MinnPost article in October 2013, former, longtime St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune commented: “To really make an informed choice, you want to hear the two finalists head to head; but here, nobody has any idea who the frontrunners are, and there’s no chance to hear them all because there are so many.”
In the same article, Bill Hosko, a former candidate for St. Paul City Council who finished second to Thune in 2011, said that many people he talked to don’t like ranked-choice voting and don’t understand it.
“I think it was well-intentioned, but it’s not working out the way it was envisioned. Minneapolis is an unpleasant example of what it allows,” Hosko said.
Voters in Duluth should vote “no” to ranked-choice voting - just as the Duluth City Council correctly did last June.   

Andrew Cilek  is executive director of the Eden Prairie-based Minnesota Voters Alliance (mnvoters.org).

To learn more
To find out more about ranked-choice voting, go to rankyour vote.org.

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