Backers submit petitions to put instant-runoff to vote in fall

Anthony Lonetree // Published June 4, 2008 in Star Tribune
Backers of a proposal to bring instant-runoff voting to the city of St. Paul submitted petitions Wednesday to put the issue before voters, appropriately enough, in November.

The system would let voters rank mayoral and City Council candidates in order of preference, and would do away with September primary elections.

Ellen Brown, a campaign coordinator for the Better Ballot Campaign of St. Paul, which is seeking the change, said she expected that, if approved by voters, instant-runoff voting would go into effect for city elections in November 2009.

Where it stands: To get the proposal on this year's general election ballot, the Better Ballot Campaign needed to gather signatures from 5,089 registered city voters, according to Joe Mansky, who is Ramsey County's elections manager.

Brown said the group collected 7,168 signatures. County elections officials now must review the names to see whether the people are, indeed, registered to vote at the addresses they've given, a process that probably will take until June 13 to complete, Mansky said.

If organizers fell short of the goal, they'd have another 10 days to gather signatures.

How it works: Instant-runoff voting is designed to ensure a candidate wins by a majority.

Under the system, voters rank candidates in order. If no candidate gains a majority, the lowest candidate is dropped and the second-place votes cast by supporters of that candidate are added to the remaining candidates, with the process continuing until one person has the majority.

Why no primary? Holding elections in November puts more candidates before a wider general-election audience, supporters say. Prominent backers of the proposal include former Mayor George Latimer and former City Council Member Ruby Hunt.

Why the petitions? Last month, the St. Paul Charter Commission, which itself could've put the issue before voters, decided against the move in a voice vote, Chairman John Van Hecke said.

Although he didn't vote himself -- the chairman only does so when there are ties -- Van Hecke said Wednesday he didn't see a need to change the voting system. During the past 30 years, he said, he could recall just one St. Paul general election during which a mayoral or council candidate won with less than a majority of votes.

What else to watch: In Minneapolis, voters adopted instant-runoff voting in 2006. While it was hoped that the system could be in place by 2009, officials there say it is unlikely to be ready by then. In addition, a group opposed to the Minneapolis plan, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, has sued to stop it.