Shaw: Minnesota needs ranked-choice voting

Published on November 18, 2021
By Jim Shaw

FARGO — One of the great failures in the last session of the Minnesota Legislature was the body’s decision to not approve election reform. It’s badly needed.

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Audubon, pushed a great idea called ranked-choice voting. In a given race, voters basically select their favorite candidate, their second favorite candidate and beyond. With ranked choice voting, it’s assured that the winner will receive at least 50% of the vote. That’s the way it should be in a democracy.

“People like this,” Eken said. “It’s easy to understand. It’s just a runoff election that only kicks in if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. It’s efficient because you do it on the same day, so you don’t have to pay more for another election.”

It’s badly needed because Minnesota Republicans cheat and deceive the voters. They do it by getting candidates to run as pro-marijuana third-party hopefuls. Those candidates take more votes away from the Democratic candidates than the Republican candidates. It’s doubtful whether some of these candidates really even support legalizing recreational marijuana. The trouble is, these pro-pot candidates can make the difference in determining who wins.

In Minnesota’s First Congressional District last year, Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn defeated Democrat Dan Feehan by about 11,000 votes because a pro-marijuana candidate received 21,448 votes.

Pro-pot candidates also received enough votes to allow Republican challenger Erik Mortenson of Shakopee to defeat former Democratic Rep. Brad Tabke for a state House seat.

Similarly, Republican Gene Dornink of Hayfield defeated Democrat Dan Sparks for a State Senate seat. In fact, Tyler Becvar, the pro-marijuana candidate in that race, actually posted a video on his Facebook page urging people to vote for Dornink.

Kevin Shores, a disabled veteran from Moorhead, said he ran for Congress in Minnesota’s 7th District, representing the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party, because he was tricked when recruited. He said he was shocked to find out later that the person who recruited him was actually a Republican. To make matters worse, Shores lost in the primary to pro-marijuana candidate Rae Hart Anderson. Surprise, surprise, Anderson ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018 … as a Republican.

So, in the interest of fairness, election reform must happen in Minnesota. Ranked-choice voting is used in many cities and states across the country, and its popularity is growing. Five Minnesota cities already use it for local elections.

“Ranked-choice voting ensures that the will of the people prevails,” Eken said. “The winners truly have the backing of the majority … This will also encourage third party candidates to run. People wouldn’t be throwing their votes away. More people would vote because they have more choices.”

Realistically, Eken’s proposal has no chance of passage as long as Republicans control at least one chamber of the Legislature. To Minnesota legislators, this is about winning, not fairness. It’s similar to the effort by several Republican-controlled legislatures in other states to suppress votes by people who would likely vote for Democrats.

“Some Minnesota Republicans are winning now by cheating and deception,” Eken said.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.

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