Ranked-Choice Voting Failed Minneapolis

A few points to follow up on the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election, which used ranked-choice voting (RCV) ballots that allow voters to rank their three favorite candidates (out of 35).

(1)  After two full days of counting, Betsy Hodges was declared the winner. She ultimately received 38,870 votes (48.95%), Mark Andrew 24,972 (31.44%), and 15,573 (19.61%) votes were “exhausted.”

(2)  Hodges did not receive a majority of the votes (so much for upholding the principle of majority rule, FairVote Minnesota), and the one-in-five voters who were denied the right to vote in the final runoff were larger in number than Hodges’ victory margin.

(3)  The counting took so long for two reasons: there were 35 candidates, and the city’s ordinance only allowed multiple-candidate (batch) elimination when their votes could not allow another candidate to move up in the rankings. As it turned out, the margins between the candidates were so small as to prevent batch elimination until the final two rounds on Thursday night. The ordinance might be changed to allow batch elimination when it’s “mathematically impossible for candidates to win.” However, technically this would still allow for a situation in which a low-first-vote candidate would’ve snowballed to a majority over time. “Mathematically impossible” indeed.

(4)  As for the 35 candidates, the City Council swiftly and unanimously voted to raise the candidate filing fee from $20 to $500.

(5)  The wide field of candidates was largely a distraction. RCV essentially told voters that they were allowed to indulge themselves by choosing the candidates they liked, but in the end if they wanted their votes to actually count, they had to vote strategically. FairVote Minnesota’s claims that RCV opens up the political playing field to newcomers is substantively untrue. To be fair, though, it’s possible some candidates will be able to use their recognition to enter city or state politics. Their successors will have to pay $500 for the privilege, however.

(6)  RCV only benefited a minority of voters. Here, 9,908 of Hodges’ 38,870 votes (25%) and 5,324 of Andrew’s 24,972 (21%) were transfers. They sum to 15,232 votes, which was 19% of the 79,415 votes cast. More votes were “exhausted” than transferred to either candidate in the final runoff. All of Hodges’ and Andrew’s remaining voters might as well have not bothered in ranking their ballots. The rest needn’t’ve bothered voting for mayor at all. Consequently, in 2013, the system was enormously wasteful.

(7)  From what little research I’ve done, RCV has been held constitutional once by the Ninth Circuit when a San Francisco resident (Dudum) sued the city claiming he was denied due process. The federal court’s response was essentially, “Shit happens in voting.” In Minneapolis, one in five votes were totally wasted—and not even in the sense that voting for a third-party candidate in a plurality election is throwing votes away (although Minnesota is exceptional for its successful third-party candidates and parties).

So when the FairVote dogmatists come to your community, just remember that RCV creates the illusion of fairness and costing much more for the effort.


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