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Ranked Choice Voting Legislation in Minnesota

For immediate release
March 18, 2015
Contact: Jeanne Massey, FairVote Minnesota Executive Director
612-850-6897

RCV ‘Local Options’ Bill Gains Bipartisan Backing 

ST. PAUL – Minnesota lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are poised to notch a victory for local control and political innovation: A bipartisan bill that would make it easier for efficiency-conscious communities to try Ranked Choice Voting stands its best chance yet of passage.

The local options bill frees statutory jurisdictions to use Ranked Choice Voting if they choose, and it allows charter cities to approve RCV by ordinance. It also establishes guidelines to ensure that the next generation of voting equipment is RCV-capable. The bill would impose no mandates and have no effect whatsoever on communities uninterested in pursuing RCV.

Sponsored by Government Operations and Elections Committee Chair Rep. Tim Sanders and Committee member Rep. Laurie Halverson in the House (H.F. 1280) and Sen. Ann Rest and Sen. Scott Newman in the Senate (S.F. 1855), the proposal is modest, sensible, and straightforward.

Rest called the measure “simply common sense. I’ve sponsored this proposal for several years, and support on both sides of aisle continues to grow. This bill has always been about getting out of the way and letting cities innovate.”

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have now used Ranked Choice Voting twice with tremendous success; St. Paul is preparing for its third RCV election this November. And more cities in the metro and in outstate Minnesota – including Crystal, Brooklyn Park, Duluth, and Rochester – are in various stages of exploring a move to RCV.

The local options bill would also give jurisdictions wanting to use RCV a tested blueprint and uniform guidelines for making the switch, Halverson said. And it would ensure that future voting equipment purchases have RCV capability. “Again, this measure isn’t compulsory in any way,” Halverson emphasized. “It would only affect cities actively choosing to explore Ranked Choice Voting. But for those communities, it means a lot – this would really clarify the process for local governments.”

Newman spoke to the measure’s potential for removing barriers for overseas military voters, who would benefit from having one less election for which they need to receive and return ballots in a timely fashion. “If local officials want their communities to make it easier for deployed service members to participate in elections, the Legislature should support this,” Newman said.

Former bill author Steve Simon continues to champion the bill in his new role as Secretary of State. He described the local options measure as a “Goldilocks option — it’s just right. It’s a compromise that says not that any jurisdiction should have Ranked Choice Voting, but if they want to have it, they shouldn’t have to come on bended knee to ask the legislature to ask special permission... if [a city] wants to experiment with RCV, they ought to do it.”

The measure has broad support from local officials across Minnesota. More than two dozen municipal leaders, including mayors, city councilors, charter commission members and others from a host of Minnesota cities, recently signed a letter calling for the bill’s passage. “We don’t know if all of our communities would ultimately adopt RCV, but we should have the freedom to consider it and make this choice for ourselves,” the officials wrote.

The bill’s premature death in the Senate last year drew criticism from voters, municipal policymakers, and the media. Star Tribune editorial called the measure “modest” and questioned the rationale behind some lawmakers’ resistance to even giving it an informational hearing: “[T]he bill in question does not impose RCV on any jurisdiction. The Legislature should give municipalities the freedom to try RCV — and the guidance to do it well."

Falcon Heights Mayor Pete Lindstrom and Duluth City Councilor Emily Larson struck a similar chord in a Star Tribune commentary last spring. “[F]or us and a number of interested cities across our state, [the bill] offered two important things: the freedom to give it a try without seeking legislative approval, along with guidelines and structure to ensure smooth, uniform implementation.”

For more information about the local options bill, its supporters and its progress, contact FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey.