Turn off your TV set, recycle that New York Times, and close your CNN browser tab, folks, ’cause none of them are reporting on the real election news of 2013: the undemocratic—and probably unconstitutional—Minneapolis municipal election!
The people of the world’s former flour-milling capital were duped into adopting a “ranked-choice” voting (RCV) system, a variant of instant-runoff voting (IRV). In RCV, voters rank their top three candidates (rather than all of them in IRV) from the entire pool. If no candidate receives an outright majority (as St. Paul’s incumbent mayor Chris Coleman did this year), then the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to their voters’ next choice(s). The process is repeated until a candidate wins a majority of votes.
Like many progressive responses to obvious problems, it’s the next worst solution—if not an even worse one—to plurality voting. (For the record, range voting, e.g. giving each candidate on the ballot a score from 0 to 4 with an affirmative “no opinion” option is the best voting system for single-member seats. The candidate with the highest average score wins. Special rules apply, such as minimum vote-share requirements for write-in candidates to prevent them from stealing elections.)
RCV and IRV suffer from numerous problems, some of which are novel to people used to plurality voting. For one, vote counts must be centralized and aren’t possible at the precinct or ward level—not impossible to accomplish but slower and more inefficient. The other problem is that IRV/RCV raises the number of spoiled ballots. If people rank the same candidate twice, for instance, their votes might be thrown out. Such errors don’t necessarily invalidate all overvotes, but it happens. Thus, IRV-type elections regularly result in more spoiled and erroneous ballots than plurality vote elections. Take that lizard people voters!
The proponent of the new method is an outfit called FairVote Minnesota, which gives ten reasons to favor RCV over plurality voting (I think):
1). Upholds the principle of majority rule
Not this year! Here are Minneapolis’ 2013 results, sorted by party and then total votes:
|NAME||Party||1ST||2ND||3RD||Pct. Total (1st)||Pct. Total (2nd)||Pct. Total (3rd)|
|Captain Jack Sparrow||Count All Rankings||264||583||1,440||0.3%||0.8%||2.4%|
|Bob “Again” Carney||Demand Transit Revolution||56||98||172||0.1%||0.1%||0.3%|
|Alicia K. Bennett||DFL||351||628||854||0.4%||0.9%||1.4%|
|Jeffrey Alan Wagner||DFL||164||292||375||0.2%||0.4%||0.6%|
|Gregg A. Iverson||DFL||144||215||437||0.2%||0.3%||0.7%|
|Doug Mann||Green Party||779||1,052||1,105||1.0%||1.5%||1.8%|
|Rahn V. Workcuff||Independence||65||118||162||0.1%||0.2%||0.3%|
|John Leslie Hartwig||Independent||97||185||248||0.1%||0.3%||0.4%|
|Cam Winton||Independent Responsible Inclusive||7,511||3,751||3,974||9.5%||5.4%||6.6%|
|Merrill Anderson||Jobs & Justice||108||190||216||0.1%||0.3%||0.4%|
|Dan Cohen||Jobs, Downtown Casino||1,798||2,283||2,072||2.3%||3.3%||3.4%|
|Bill Kahn||Last Minneapolis Mayor||97||164||194||0.1%||0.2%||0.3%|
|John Charles Wilson||Lauraist Communist||37||66||112||0.0%||0.1%||0.2%|
|Edmund Bernard Bruyere||Legacy-Next Generation||70||59||83||0.1%||0.1%||0.1%|
|Christopher Robin Zimmerman||Libertarian||170||435||422||0.2%||0.6%||0.7%|
|Troy Benjegerdes||Local Energy/Food||148||224||323||0.2%||0.3%||0.5%|
|Kurtis W. Hanna||Pirate Party||200||250||418||0.3%||0.4%||0.7%|
|Mark V Anderson||Simplify Government||975||1,035||905||1.2%||1.5%||1.5%|
|Tony Lane||Socialist Workers Party||219||265||397||0.3%||0.4%||0.7%|
|Jaymie Kelly||Stop Foreclosures Now||196||419||412||0.2%||0.6%||0.7%|
|Abdul M Rahaman||We the People …||338||363||367||0.4%||0.5%||0.6%|
|James L. Stroud||64||98||154||0.1%||0.1%||0.3%|
Although the purported winner is DFLer (that’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor for you Minnesota history dunces) Betsy Hodges, it’s savagely obvious that a majority of voters wanted someone other than her to be mayor. In fact, while DFL candidates received a de Blasionian 81.1 percent of the total vote, 55 percent of them still were against Hodges.
To say that many of these voters may’ve chosen Hodges as their second or third choices so their votes “really counted in the end” is condescending, semantic nonsense because it tells those voters that their first or second choices weren’t serious. She might have been the “Condorcet winner,” i.e. the candidate who would’ve beaten all other candidates in head-to-head matchups, but it doesn’t matter because RCV leaves that question in dispute. The 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election results blatantly discredit FairVote Minnesota’s claims that RCV upholds majority rule.
2). Eliminates “wasted” votes
Tell that to anyone whose three candidates were eliminated, a phenomenon that makes RCV even worse than IRV and plurality voting. Indeed, because some votes (probably) weren’t included in the runoffs, eliminated voters had no say in who was ultimately elected mayor. This is probably a denial of due process.
3). Solves the “spoiler” problem and gives voters more choice
Given that a majority of DFLers, to say nothing of the other 19 percent of voters, preferred someone other than Hodges, some of the candidates must have been spoilers ipso facto.
4). Increases voter participation
The StarTribune says turnout was higher in 2001.
5). Opens the political process to new voices
…Who are promptly eliminated.
Okay, I concede. Nine DFLers taking 81.1 percent of the vote is better than one.
6). Promotes more diverse representation
Sure, if you think minority, plurality candidates count as “diverse.”
7). Reduces negative campaigning and promotes civil, issue oriented campaigns
Or it promotes rancorous intraparty fights as candidates accuse one another of spoiling the election in favor of a plurality leader like Hodges.
8). Mitigates political polarization
What? Just a second ago we were getting diversity and now we’re getting moderation? What could be more polarizing than minority candidates winning and votes being eliminated before the final runoff?
9). Combines two elections in one so that voters only have to make one trip to the polls and taxpayers have to pay for only one election
Tell that to the people who picked for their first or second choices any of the candidates who lost to Hodges but weren’t eliminated. If, for example, DFLer Mark Andrew came in second, all 19,584 of his first-choice voters only got to vote once, i.e. their second and third choices were wasted votes, which we’re told don’t exist. Some people’s votes counted thrice, some once, and some not at all.
10). Reduces the cost of campaigning
Maybe, unless an internecine fight erupts over who’s spoiling the election and should drop out. Technically, RCV encourages “candidate cloning” by opposing parties. (Hey Mayor-elect Hodges, how much will you pay me to move to Minneapolis, throw down the $20 registration fee to run as another DFLer in the next election and split up the vote even further so you’ll win next time? Republicans? I’m totally a mercenary candidate.)
To be clear, none of this is to say that Hodges will make a poor mayor, or that she was an unpopular candidate, but she is not the person most Minneapolitans voted for via RCV. This contradiction is so self-evident that it lacks the subtlety to qualify as Orwellian.
Minneapolis: Where “one person, one vote” and majority rule crawl into a plastic bag to die.
And while the LSTB is in Minneapolis, my favorite question from the Star Tribune‘s meet-the-30-candidates article is “Ideas to lower property taxes.” Because, why make Beacon Investment Properties LLC, owner of the 57-story IDS Center and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc., owner of the 32-story Foshay Tower pay for the never-won-a-Superbowl Viking’s new stadium when the city can just confiscate poor people’s wages with another sales tax hike? How else are wealthy, foreign, feudal land speculators supposed to make a living? Their own labor? Heavens no.