Bemidji Charter Commission issues support for ranked choice voting

Published on March 21, 2023

BEMIDJI — The city of Bemidji’s Charter Commission expressed support for ranked choice voting at its meeting on Thursday, asking for the Bemidji City Council to follow suit.

Ranked choice voting is a system where voters rank each candidate in a race based on their preference. Votes in the election are counted initially based on first-choice rankings, but if no candidate receives a majority the other rankings are taken into account.

In a hypothetical presented by Maureen Reed, the chair of FairVote Minnesota who presented to the city council on the matter at its Jan. 9 meeting, after an initial election failed to have one candidate receive more than 50% of the votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice rankings had their ballots reassigned based on the voters’ second choice.

Following this presentation, the commission spent some time on Thursday reviewing a bill that would authorize local governments to implement ranked choice voting and what action the city could take following state approval.

“Really, (the bill) doesn’t require ranked choice voting,” commissioner Rita Albrecht said. “What it does is enable not only the state but also all charter cities to adopt ranked choice voting if they so desire.”

According to an article published by the League of Minnesota Cities, the bill would establish a statewide ranked choice voting implementation task force, create statewide standards for ranked choice voting, authorize cities to adopt procedures and create a grant program for local governments that implement the voting method.

The bill was originally drafted to establish the voting system for 2026 federal and state elections.

Commissioners shared their support, concerns and questions regarding the procedures, implementation and resulting costs associated with ranked choice voting.

Educating the public on the process was one concern raised by commissioner Char Blashill.

“Is the state going to take on the expense of educating people on how it works or is that going to be an expense to the city,” Blashill asked during the meeting.

Blashill also questioned how much in expenses the grant program would cover, but still expressed support for the process in order to fill council vacancies as quickly as possible.

“We’ve had way too many special elections in the past few years,” Blashill added. “I just don’t find it fair that a ward isn’t represented … waiting months and months on end without representation.”

Commission Chair Don Heinonen noted that the bill wouldn’t change the timing of when elections are held, only that run-off elections could be avoided.

“Until the state changes the months that we can hold an election, we have to have it within that specified five months that the state has set aside,” Heinonen said.

The voting procedure would also have to be adopted by local government units after the state’s approval and the city charter would be amended to reflect the change if ranked choice voting moves forward locally.

After more discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve a resolution affirming support for ranked choice voting and encouraging the city council to adopt their own resolution supporting the matter, which is expected to take place at a future council meeting.

Heinonen capped off the discussion by asking for public input on the voting method, “so that the voters have their say in being able to advise us as to their wishes before we actually move forward with any kind of action as far as requiring the city to move forward.”

Originally published in the Bemidji Pioneer
Published on March 17, 2023

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