Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) has been gaining momentum across the country, but nowhere is the momentum greater than right here in Minnesota. And for good reason: RCV promotes a vibrant democracy that boosts turnout and is more representative and less divisive.
Under a ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed based on the voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate has reached majority support.
A group of Rochester citizens has been leading on this reform at the local level and would like Rochester to have the opportunity to adopt RCV for its local elections. RCV would eliminate the need for low-turnout, high-cost August primaries for city council and mayor and ensure candidates with the most popular support win in a single decisive election in November when the turnout is highest and most diverse. On average, five times more voters participate in a general election than in a municipal primary in August. For these and many other benefits, the Rochester City Council passed and testified on behalf of a resolution in support of a local option for RCV.
Most Minnesota cities are statutory cities and don’t have the authority to even consider RCV. While Rochester is a charter city with authority over its local elections, the city is unfortunately prevented from considering RCV due to conflicts for cities with even-year local elections. A bill before the state Legislature would give local jurisdictions with odd-year local elections the authority and opportunity to decide if RCV is best for them and, importantly, create a task force to remedy conflicts for cities like Rochester with even-year local elections. The task force would also explore how Minnesota could expand RCV statewide.
I am grateful Rochester-area legislators support this bill and urge their fellow legislators to get on board! RCV is a timely remedy for addressing political divisions and giving greater choice and power to voters.
The experience of cities that already use RCV — Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Bloomington — demonstrates its many benefits . As explained above, it increases voter participation by allowing voters to consider the full slate of candidates in the general election when turnout is higher and more representative of the community.
There is also evidence of increased civility in campaigns. In our current election system, polarization and personal attacks have become the norm. Yet, in RCV cities, 90% of voters report that candidates spend no or very little time criticizing each other. In ranked-choice elections, candidates are incentivized to run positive campaigns focused on the issues, rather than attacking their opponents.
Compared to our current plurality voting system, RCV allows voters to express their true preferences and ensures that the winning candidate has a broad base of support. Because voters rank their choices, there is no fear of helping a “spoiler” or “wasting” their vote on an unlikely candidate. Likewise, the winning candidate must appeal to a wide range of voters since they are aiming to receive second-choice votes from their opponents. Ultimately, these changes lead to the election of officials who more accurately reflect and represent their constituents.
RCV is tested and simple. Across all ethnic groups, ages, and income levels, voters have found RCV easy to use. In 2021, 88% of Minneapolis voters indicated that the ballot was simple to use, and across the board, RCV elections have nearly a 100% valid ballot rate.
RCV is a simple change to the ballot that can bring enormous benefits to our city and state. It would increase voter participation, encourage positive campaigning, and promote broad-based majority support. This legislative session, we have the opportunity to advance this promising reform. I urge the legislature to seize this opportunity and pass RCV legislation.
Sara Flick, of Rochester, is a marketing professional and past candidate for Senate District 25. She serves on the Rochester Charter Commission and on the board of GiveMN.