Pre-emption bill would snuff out a promising democratic tool.
Ranked-choice voting’s potency as a political reform tool is getting perverse affirmation at the Legislature this session. Legislators loyal to the status quo are behind a move to end RCV in St. Paul and Minneapolis, the only Minnesota cities that use the vote-by-ranking system, and to ban its adoption elsewhere.
A bill that would pre-empt local ranked-choice voting won the approval of a state Senate panel on a party-line vote last week, with Republicans favoring the ban and DFLers opposed. But opposition to the still-new voting method can be found among inside players in both parties. The opponents evidently don’t like what this Editorial Board has seen for some time: RCV has the potential to shift political power away from partisan zealots and aid the formation of centrist consensus.
That potential apparently appealed to the voters in Minneapolis in 2006 and St. Paul in 2009. They also responded positively to the notion of eliminating costly, low-turnout primaries in city elections. RCV charter amendments won approval in the state’s largest cities by strong majorities. The voting method is now getting a serious look in St. Louis Park, Rochester and Red Wing, as well.
But RCV is also encountering increasingly intense resistance. In Duluth in 2015, it was labor’s opposition that helped defeat an RCV charter amendment. In the state of Maine, where voters in 2016 approved RCV for state elections, legislators’ attempts to thwart the will of the voters has landed the matter in court. At the Minnesota Legislature this year, RCV’s most potent foe appears to be Republican state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former Minnesota secretary of state and a longtime GOP insider who heads the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.
RCV’s detractors may have trouble seeing this bill into the statute books this year, particularly if the Legislature’s votes for the measure continue to come only from Republicans. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has long held that he will not sign election-law changes unless they come to his desk with bipartisan backing. But Dayton won’t be in office in 2019. Kiffmeyer and the other RCV opponents in the state Senate will be. Their terms don’t end until January 2021.
That means that this year’s anti-RCV push may serve as a warning to those who would be loath to see the local RCV experiments end by legislative fiat. Minnesotans should seek to know the RCV views of this year’s candidates for governor and the state House and weigh those views as they cast their votes.
RCV does a better job of producing a majority winner in multiple-candidate elections than does today’s plurality-wins system. Yet it’s friendlier than the status quo to third-party candidacies because it eases voters’ fears that a vote for a third-party candidate will inadvertently lead to the election of the voter’s least-preferred choice. RCV creates an incentive for candidates to build broad bases of support and a disincentive for harsh attacks on one’s opponents. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, it has proved to be popular and — despite critics’ claims to the contrary — well understood by voters.
For those good reasons plus one more — the value of preserving local control over local elections — we hope the anti-RCV effort in this year’s Legislature falters. And that Minnesotans who like what they’ve seen from RCV to date and are eager to see more will convey their thinking to this year’s candidates for state office.