Instant runoff voting could appear on November ballot

Brandon Stahl // Published March 11, 2009 in Duluth News Tribune

A controversial system that allows voters to rank candidates rather than pick just one could be coming to a ballot near you.

Local proponents of instant runoff voting say they’re collecting the more than 2,600 signatures needed to put a measure on the ballot in November that would seek to implement the voting system in future elections. If passed, Duluth could be the second city in the state to implement the system.

“It’s a better way to vote,” said Mary Evans, who is helping to lead the charge for IRV as part of the Duluth Better Ballot campaign and a member of the Duluth League of Women Voters, which supports the voting system.

Evans and other supporters of IRV say it eliminates the need for primaries, assures winners with a majority of voter support, encourages more third-party candidates and would make for elections with less mudslinging and more discussion of issues.

“In a sense, it makes campaigns cleaner,” Evans said. “You don’t want to say bad things about [a candidate], because it would be nice to have his second choice [if your name] doesn’t make it to the top.”

However, the system has its opponents, including those who say it’s unconstitutional.

“We’ve had our current process going for more than 200 years. This seems like a solution looking for a problem,” said Ron Carey, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, which is opposed to Instant Runoff Voting. “This goes against the concept of one person, one vote.”

Carey also believes that IRV forces people to compromise their views and values by making people choose second or third choices for candidates and makes voting more complicated.

But IRV has some prominent state and local supporters in city politics, including state house speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Duluth city councilor Sharla Gardner and Mayor Don Ness.

“We’ve had too many elections in this country determined with less than majority support,” Ness said. “I think IRV is a potential solution to that significant problem — I think there are other potential solutions that should also be considered.”

But Ness said local IRV supporters have a long way to go before the system is implemented in local elections, including addressing concerns about logistics, equipment needs and educating the public on how the process works.

“I’ve encouraged the IRV advocates to develop a plan that would address these concerns and to ensure that they have a very strong proposal prior to advocating for any change to our election system,” he said. “I’ll be very welcome to hear the results of their efforts, but I am not going to be involved.”