Ranked-choice voting’s time has come

Published on March 30, 2023

It is time to move forward on ranked-choice voting to reduce polarization and extremism in our politics. I’m proud of Minnesota’s national leadership when it comes to voting.

We are the “North Star State” when it comes to advancing democracy, and ranked-choice voting will continue this leadership tradition. As a former secretary of state, I know we have the expertise needed to implement this promising reform in Minnesota.

Ranked-choice voting is a proven system designed to make us a more perfect union. It is already used for local elections in some of Minnesota’s most populated areas, like Bloomington, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Also known as instant runoff voting, ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. When the votes are counted, if no one has earned a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and votes received by that candidate are reallocated to their voters’ second-choice candidates. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.

Under our current system, candidates can win with only a small percentage of the vote, even when the majority would have preferred someone else. Ranked-choice voting makes elections more efficient because the instant runoff occurs in one cost-effective election. At the local level, ranked-choice voting can eliminate the need for a primary, allowing for a single election in November when turnout is much higher. In state partisan primaries and general elections, ranked-choice voting can achieve majority winners without costly runoffs like those that sometimes occur in Georgia, which can result in steep declines in participation.

Some worry that this approach may be confusing, but our experience here in Minnesota and in other states shows otherwise. Voters in 60 jurisdictions across the country, including five Minnesota cities and the states of Maine and Alaska, are already using this approach. Millions of voters overwhelmingly find this system simple to use and prefer it over the traditional system. Like Maine and Alaska, Minnesota can educate its voters about the system, and the bill moving through the Legislature provides an appropriation for that purpose.

Not only is ranked-choice voting easy for voters, a recent poll by Expedition Strategies also showed that a majority of Minnesota voters support this method for state and federal elections.

In my time as Minnesota’s secretary of state, I chaired a task force to evaluate the opportunities and challenges to implementing ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis after it was adopted by voter referendum in 2006. I was proud of the work we accomplished and pleased with the task force recommendations, which led to the successful launch of the state’s first use of this approach to elections in 2009.

Ranked-choice voting legislation is moving forward in this legislative session. The Protect and Advance Democracy Act (SF 2270/HF 2486) provides all local jurisdictions the opportunity to adopt this approach if they wish, and it creates a task force to recommend to the Legislature the necessary procedures, resources and timeline for implementing ranked-choice voting statewide.

With our top-in-the-nation turnout and nearly two decades of experience working on ranked-choice voting implementation at the local level, Minnesota is ready to do the work necessary to take this reform statewide, and a task force including all relevant stakeholders is the way to do it. From my experience working closely with our local and county election officials for eight years, we have some of the best election administrators in the nation and I am confident they can prepare Minnesota for this change.

It is time to move forward on this reform, which is key to reducing polarization and extremism in our politics. Ranked-choice voting changes the incentives of our system to reward those who campaign for second-choice votes and focus on the issues rather than demonizing their opponents. It fosters civility, gives voters greater choice and power, and gives every candidate an opportunity to build a broad, inclusive coalition of support that is reflective of and responsive to a majority of voters. I’m excited to see progress in St. Paul, where enabling legislation has passed through three committees. I urge legislators to give all Minnesotan access to the many benefits of ranked-choice voting by approving the Protect and Advance Democracy Act.

Mark Ritchie was Minnesota’s secretary of state from 2007 to 2015. He’s at donaldmarkritchie@gmail.com.

Originally published in the Star Tribune
Published on March 30, 2023

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