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Legislative Special Elections Highlight Need for Ranked Choice Voting

Minneapolis (Nov. 29, 2011) -- A few short weeks ago we saw – in St. Paul’s city council elections – a great illustration of how beautifully Ranked Choice Voting works at the municipal level. Next week, we’ll see a prime example of why RCV is needed for state-level elections as well.

Two upcoming special legislative elections in Minneapolis, in Senate District 59 and House District 61B, underline the need for a better, smarter voting system at the state level. Vacancies left by the retirement of Sen. Larry Pogemiller and by Rep. Jeff Hayden’s move to the Senate are necessitating both a special partisan primary and a special general election. The special primary is a week from today, Dec. 6.

Turnout for special elections is much lower than for regular elections; turnout for special primaries is even lower. In the recent SD 46 and 61 special elections in Hennepin County, roughly 15 percent of voters turned out in the general election, vs. 67 percent (in Hennepin County) in a regular election year; approximately 7 percent turned out for the special election primary, vs. 19 percent in a regular election year primary.

Low-turnout special election primaries are especially troublesome in districts dominated by a single party because the winner is typically decided in this election – and in the crowded, multiple-candidate primaries like that in SD 59, it happens with far less than a majority of votes. Using RCV for special elections would roll the primary and general elections into one, producing a winner with majority support in a single, more cost-effective, higher-turnout and more diverse general election. (While using RCV in state partisan regular elections would not necessarily combine the primary and general elections, it makes sense to combine the two into one in low-turnout, tightly spaced special elections.)

Of the candidates competing for Hayden’s seat, Susan Allen and Nathan Blumenshine are strong supporters of RCV. Among the five DFLers running for the Senate seat being vacated by Pogemiller, three – Jacob Frey, Paul Ostrow and Peter Wagenius, Mayor Rybak's point person on implementing RCV in Minneapolis – are long-time RCV backers.

Candidates we’ve been unable to reach or who haven’t yet expressed support for Ranked Choice Voting include Paul Dennis in HD 61B  and DFLers Mohamud Noor, Kari Dziedzi and Republican Ben Schwanke in SD 59.

One candidate has issued a written statement in support of RCV. Ostrow, a onetime RCV skeptic, is campaigning on electoral reform issues and has embraced the system now used for city elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In his “Petition to Restore Our Democracy,” Ostrow calls for RCV as a way to promote competition and participation in politics.

We hope those who succeed Sen. Pogemiller and Rep. Hayden in office carry on the strong tradition of championing Ranked Choice Voting in these districts.

If you are a voter in these districts, please contact each of the candidates between now and next week’s primary and ask them to support RCV – or if they already do, thank them for their support.

Several candidate forums are scheduled for the coming week. Please attend if you can and ask the candidates about Ranked Choice Voting:

• SD 61B candidate forum at Breakfast with Elizabeth: Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 a.m. at Turtle Bread, 38th St. and Chicago Ave.

• SD59 DFL Senate Candidate Forum, sponsored by SD59 DFL: Wednesday, November 30, 6:30 p.m. at Sheridan Arts Magnet School Auditorium,1201 University Ave. N.E. (Corner of Broadway St. N.E. and University Ave. N.E.)

• SD59 Neighborhood Candidate Forum: Monday, December 5, 6:30 p.m. at Van Cleve Park Community Center, 901 15th Ave. S.E.

And if you’re a DFLer living in either of these two districts, of course, don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!  You can look up your polling location here.