Ranked choice voting back on the ballot in Minnetonka

Published on August 8, 2023

City Council approves question for November election

The topic of ranked choice voting has come increasingly to the forefront of conversations in Minnetonka as election day approaches.

This is because at the July 31 Minnetonka City Council meeting, language was approved for a ballot measure asking voters to determine whether ranked choice voting should be kept or repealed in Minnetonka. This system of voting was only recently instated in Minnetonka, with a majority of voters approving the measure about three years ago.

In 2020, RCV was approved by a majority of voters, with 54.7 percent (18,456 total votes) in favor and 45.3 percent (15,288) total votes, against, according to the city of Minnetonka.

“A petition has been submitted to the city for an amendment to the City Charter, and that petition has met all of the legal and procedural requirements in order to be submitted to the voters at the November election,” reported Minnetonka City Attorney Corrine Heine. “The matter that’s before the city council tonight is to decide the wording of the ballot question. Under state law, the council decides how the wording should be submitted to the voters.”

For Minnetonka, the ballot question to be presented to voters regarding RCV was brought before the council in the form of two options legally approved by city staff, with Heine clarifying “you do not have to select A or B,” telling the council they could make a third wording. “You have to decide collectively what is the language that at least four of you can support,” she said.

“The reason we [gave options] is because there is a timing concern here. By law, the wording of the ballot must be submitted to the county auditor no later than 74 days before the election, which is toward the end of this month.”

The first option presented to the council read “Shall the Minnetonka City Charter be amended to change the method of electing the mayor and city council from ranked-choice voting to a primary (if needed) and general election?”

The second option read, “Shall the Minnetonka City Charter be amended to repeal ranked-choice voting as the method for electing the mayor and city council and reinstate the use of a primary (if needed) and general election?”

The council deliberated shortly on the wording, discussed their questions, and also heard from one public representative in favor and one not in favor of RCV.

Mayor Brad Weirsum made clear before public presentations that “the purpose here tonight is not to talk about why we like ranked choice voting or why we dislike ranked choice voting. That is not on the agenda tonight. What’s on the agenda is what is the right wording for the ballot measure.”

Both proponents and opponents of RCV agreed that they like the wording of the second option better, with Wiersum joking “this is kind of a unique moment in history, we have people on opposite sides of an issue agreeing on the terminology,” adding that perhaps that would be “instructive to the council.”

With this in mind, after adding their own thoughts on why they support the wording of the second option as well, every council member, including the mayor, voted to approve the second option for the ballot question.

Minnetonka’s municipal election will take place this year on Nov. 7, with voters deciding the city’s future with RCV.

Minneapolis describes RCV as “a voting method where you vote for candidates in order of your preference. This allows you to ‘rank’ your vote – first choice, second choice, and third choice. This method can allow your vote to count toward another candidate if your favorite candidate loses. For example, if your first choice candidate doesn’t win, your vote is transferred to your second choice.”

According to the Congressional Research Service report “Ranked-choice voting, Legal Challenges and Considerations for Congress,” “RCV has been adopted in at least 50 jurisdictions across the United States, including for statewide and federal elections in Maine and Alaska.”

The report further described the difference between RCV and single-choice voting systems.

“In most of the United States, voters participate in a single-choice voting (SCV) system,” the report reads. “In an SCV election with a plurality threshold, also called ‘first-past-the-post,’ a voter chooses one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. In an election with a majority-threshold requirement instead of a plurality threshold, if a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote, a runoff election may be held. A runoff is an additional election held in the event that the initial election does not produce a candidate that has met the required threshold to win.”

According to the source, “Proponents of RCV claim that other election systems, such as SCV elections with plurality thresholds, overly benefit candidates with a strong core of support, or a ‘base,’ by allowing those candidates to win with only a plurality of voter support even if they are strongly opposed by the rest of the electorate. Proponents also argue that RCV creates strong incentives for candidates to appeal to voters who may cast them as their second or third choice, thereby encouraging the election of officials by a broader coalition of voters and reducing partisanship,” says the report. “Opponents of RCV argue that this system unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote and decreases turnout by making voting more complex.”

While both pros and cons of ranked choice voting have been debated and studied, the questioning of the system’s constitutionality on the grounds of complicating the right to vote has not held up in courts at the state and federal levels, and has been ruled constitutional at both levels in Minnesota.

According to Congressional Research, “[RCV] systems, also called preferential voting or instant-runoff voting (IRV), have been uniformly upheld in federal courts as a lawful policy choice within the states’ constitutional authority to administer elections.

“Federal courts have consistently upheld RCV as a policy choice to implement primary and general elections that do not violate federal constitutional and statutory requirements,” stated the source, adding that “RCV systems have been upheld by several state Supreme Courts, including Alaska, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.”

Originally published in the The Sun Sailor
Published on August 8, 2023

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