Minnesota should join Alaska, pioneer ranked-choice reform

Published on December 12, 2022

Rep. Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native and first woman to represent her home state in the U.S. House after a special election in August, has now been re-elected to a full term, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in the first statewide general election in Alaska using ranked-choice voting (RCV).

While pundits focused on voters electing Peltola, a Democrat, in a traditionally red state, the more important takeaway is that voters chose candidates most committed to coalition-building and finding common ground.

With the statewide election of Murkowski, a moderate Republican, and Dunleavy, a conservative Republican, along with Democrat Peltola, the ranked-choice election produced leaders representative of the political diversity of Alaska, where 58% of voters identify as unaffiliated or independent.

With this election, Alaska became the first state to elect both its state and federal officials using ranked-choice voting, an election system gaining popularity in places like Maine and Utah and in Minnesota cities such as Minneapolis, Bloomington, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park. More than 50 jurisdictions across the country use RCV for their local elections, more than double the number in 2020. And Nevada just passed a statewide ballot measure that will implement ranked-choice voting for state and federal elections after it passes one more time in 2024, as required for citizen-initiated ballot measures.

I urge my Minnesota legislative colleagues to join these states in establishing ranked-choice elections for state and federal offices in Minnesota starting in 2024. There is good reason to adopt this much-needed structural reform.

In Alaska’s general election, Peltola improved on her performance in the special election, this time earning close to 49% of first-choice votes and almost 55% in the final round. Peltola understood that under ranked-choice voting the candidate who built a broad coalition of voter support and shared a positive vision on the state’s important issues would be rewarded. Indeed, Peltola garnered sufficient second-choice votes from Republican Nick Begich voters to win with more than a majority of voter support.

Murkowski similarly benefited from RCV, which rewards candidates who reach across party lines and build broad coalitions. She defeated by more than 7 points Trump-endorsed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who was unable to muster sufficient second-choice votes to overcome Murkowski’s lead. Indeed, in the final weeks leading up to the election, Murkowsi crossed party lines to endorse Peltola, exactly the kind of positive coalition building that RCV encourages.

After Jan. 6, we know our democracy is fragile. We know voters are tiring of the partisanship and fearful of the extremism that led up to the insurrection. The best way to address the deep divisions in our politics today is to adopt a system that incentivizes candidates to build broad, inclusive, multiracial coalitions rather than rely on their own ideological base. That’s what RCV does.

Minnesotans in Bloomington, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, St. Paul and Minneapolis use ranked-choice voting to elect their local leaders. That means nearly 1 million Minnesotans are already using this system to elect candidates that represent a broad coalition of the community.

The bill to bring ranked-choice voting statewide had more cosponsors than any other piece of legislation in the last biennium, but it was blocked in the Minnesota Senate. With this most recent election, we have a very different Senate, one that will prioritize protecting and strengthening our democracy.

In the session that begins Jan. 3, I am eager to see my colleagues on both sides of the aisle support and pass legislation that will implement ranked-choice elections for federal and state offices, provide election officials with the support they need for a smooth adoption, and allow local jurisdictions to adopt RCV if they choose. I am optimistic Minnesota can become the first state to pass RCV with legislative action, setting a path for reform that other states can follow.

Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, is a member of the Minnesota Senate

Originally published in the Star Tribune
Published on December 2, 2022

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