Frequently Asked Questions
What does the Protect and Advance Democracy Act do?
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) legislation, as amended, called the Protect and Advance Democracy Act, will:
- Establish a task force to make recommendations to the legislature on adopting and implementing RCV at the state level and in local jurisdictions with even-year elections;
- Allow local jurisdictions with odd-year elections to adopt RCV if they wish;
- Provide grants to local jurisdictions for RCV implementation and voter education.
A growing number of cities would like to explore using RCV for their local elections but are unable to do so for one of two reasons: 1) They do not have home-rule authority; or 2) they hold elections in even years alongside state and federal elections and lack statutory guidelines for placing ranked and unranked elections on the same ballot.
The RCV legislation would give all local jurisdictions – cities, school districts and counties – the opportunity to adopt RCV and decide if that system is best for their communities. It also provides ballot standards for use of RCV in even-year elections. RCV makes local elections more efficient and cost effective – combining municipal primaries and general elections into one general election in November when turnout is higher and more representative of the community. This saves time and money for the jurisdiction, candidates and voters, and makes local elections more inclusive.
The future of our democracy was a top concern for Minnesota voters in 2022. With political divisions and extremism on the rise, Minnesotans stated clearly and consistently that they were fearful about the state of our democracy and wanted action to protect and strengthen it.
Ranked Choice Voting is the best step we can take to reduce extremism and division. It encourages candidates to build broad majority coalitions to win and gives voters greater voice, choice and power. Because candidates appeal to their opponent’s supporters for second-choice votes, RCV fosters more civil campaigns and a more accountable and responsive government, something desperately needed after years of gridlock and dysfunction. For more, see fairvotemn.org/why/.
Unlike Maine and Alaska, which passed RCV by referendum, RCV must be adopted through the legislative process, meaning the Minnesota House and Senate need to pass legislation and the Governor needs to sign the bill. Led by Senator Kelly Morrison and Rep. Cedrick Frazier as chief authors, RCV advocates are working to pass the Protect and Advance Democracy Act into law in the 2023 session.
Once the Protect and Advance Democracy bill is signed into law, any city, county, or school district will have the immediate option to adopt RCV by ordinance or referendum. The bill does not mandate use of RCV for any jurisdiction, but instead gives localities the opportunity to use RCV if they wish, and provides statutory guidelines for its implementation.
The cost for localities will depend on their current voting equipment and whether or not local elections are held in odd or even years. For the many localities that hold local elections in odd years, RCV will save the expense of a costly and unnecessary primary. A study by the NCSL determined that implementing RCV costs jurisdictions, on average, less than one dollar per voter.
The legislation provides an appropriation for local jurisdictions to implement RCV, and the Statewide Implementation Taskforce will determine the appropriation necessary to implement RCV for state and federal offices.
Most Minnesota jurisdictions have voting machines that can scan and record ranked ballots. In local jurisdictions that do not have updated voting equipment and would like to use RCV, the bill includes an appropriation to make the necessary upgrades.
The Statewide Implementation Taskforce would be responsible for reviewing the current status of equipment across Minnesota and include in their recommendations any machine and programming upgrades that are necessary to implement RCV statewide.
State and federal partisan primaries: Under the legislation, Minnesota would continue to hold state and federal partisan primaries, and the task force will develop standards, procedures and timeline for implementing RCV in those partisan primaries, along with the general election. Once implemented, RCV will ensure that whoever prevails in primaries with three or more candidates has earned a majority of support from primary voters.
Local nonpartisan primaries: Unlike state partisan elections, all local elections are nonpartisan, meaning the purpose of a local primary is to narrow the field of candidates to the top two (or double the number of seats to fill), regardless of party affiliation. These are typically very low turnout elections. If a local jurisdiction decides to use RCV, the local primary will be combined with the general election in November when turnout is higher, more diverse and representative of the community. This is how RCV works in the five Minnesota cities that use it and how it would work in other local jurisdictions that adopt it.
RCV does not impact party endorsements. Just like now, parties have control over their caucuses and nominating conventions to decide party preferences for the ballot. While candidates will frequently abide by the party endorsement, that is not always the case. When there are more than two candidates competing in the party primary, RCV would ensure that the winner has a majority of support and encourage candidates to build broad coalitions to win.
The proposed RCV model in Minnesota has no direct impact on redistricting and gerrymandering. However, regardless of how political boundaries are drawn, typically by the courts in Minnesota, RCV ensures that candidates running in any district build a majority coalition of voters to win, in both primaries and general elections. This is especially beneficial in districts where one party dominates and primaries are often decisive; RCV would help ensure primary winners are supported as broadly as possible.
General background on Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) – sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting – is a simple but powerful change to the way we vote that empowers voters to rank candidates in order of preference and ensures winners with a majority or the highest support possible in a single, decisive and cost-effective election. For more, see https://fairvotemn.org/rcv/.
In ranked-choice elections, voters have the option to rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, and so on. In a single-seat election, if a candidate receives a majority (50% + 1) of first choices, that candidate wins. If not, another round of counting occurs. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is defeated, and these ballots now count for those voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority and wins, or in multi-seat elections, until candidates have reached the winning threshold and all seats are filled.
Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice is eliminated. Sometimes called “instant runoff voting,” RCV is the most cost-effective and efficient way to ensure winners with the broadest support possible and eliminate vote splitting, wasted votes and the spoiler problem. For more, see https://fairvotemn.org/rcv/.
Yes, it’s simple! In elections with more than two candidates, voters simply rank their choices instead of voting for just one. RCV makes voting simpler by asking voters in local elections to come out once and eliminating the need in all elections to be strategic with their vote.
Voters consistently and overwhelmingly report that RCV is simple to use, including 88 percent of Minneapolis voters in 2021, 77 percent of Bloomington voters in 2021, 92 percent of St. Louis Park voters in 2019, and 83 percent of St. Paul voters in 2017. These results are remarkably consistent with previous RCV election polls in Minneapolis and St. Paul across all ethnic groups, ages, and income levels. Huge majorities also report that they like RCV and prefer it over the old system. For more detail, see RCV in MN Cities Fact Sheet 2009-2020 and FairVote MN’s 2021 RCV Election Overview. Minnesota voters’ positive views of RCV are consistent with what other voters have reported across the country, from New York City to Utah to Alaska.
A nearly 100 percent valid ballot rate in the 2021 RCV elections, consistent with other recent RCV elections in Minnesota, demonstrates high levels of voter confidence and proficiency in ranking their ballots.
Over 60 jurisdictions across the country already use RCV, including five cities in Minnesota as well as the states of Maine and Alaska, and even more jurisdictions will be using it in 2023. Military and overseas voters cast RCV ballots for federal runoff elections in six states.
RCV is also used in democracies around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and in the city of London, England. Elected officials in India, Nepal and Pakistan use the multi-winner form of RCV to select their national senates and in India, its president. For more, see fairvote.org/our-reforms/ranked-choice-voting-information/.
RCV is a tried and true voting method in Minnesota. It has been used in Minneapolis since 2009, St. Paul since 2011, St. Louis Park since 2019, and Bloomington and Minnetonka since 2021. Voters consistently and overwhelmingly report that RCV is easy to use and fosters more civil campaigns. Not surprisingly, huge majorities also report that they like RCV and prefer it over the old system. Voter participation is higher under RCV by promoting more competitive elections with multiple candidates – a key driver of voter turnout. For more detail, see RCV in MN Cities Fact Sheet 2009-2020.
In 2021, five Minnesota cities – representing 16 percent of Minnesota voters – conducted ranked-choice elections at the same time, and they were a resounding success, with record high turnout, the most diverse slate of candidates running and winning, issue-focused campaigns, and winning candidates that built broad coalitions of voter support. The elections ran smoothly in all five cities, with a nearly 100 percent valid ballot rate. For more, see FairVote Minnesota’s 2021 RCV Election Overview.
Yes. In 2009, the Minnesota State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Ranked Choice Voting is constitutional: “Every voter has the same opportunity to rank candidates when she casts her ballot, and in each round every voter’s vote carries the same value.” Minnesota Voters Alliance v. FairVote Minnesota, June 11, 2009. Federal courts have also ruled that RCV meets all tests under the U.S. Constitution. See Congressional Research Service Memo on RCV.
Ranked Choice Voting does not favor any political party; it simply ensures that electoral outcomes reflect the will of the majority of voters. It is used in red, blue and purple states with equal success.
In multi-seat races, like at-large city council or school board races with two seats, RCV helps ensure that more voters directly help elect the winning candidates. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference, just like they do for a single-seat election. Candidates must reach a winning threshold, depending on the number of seats to fill according to the formula: [1/(# of seats to fill + 1)] + 1 vote. In a single-seat election, the threshold is 50% +1, a majority; in a two-seat election, the threshold is 33% + 1; and in a 3-seat election, the threshold is 25% + 1.
Just like in a single-seat election, if no candidate reaches the winning threshold, the last-place finisher is eliminated and those ballots are reallocated to remaining candidates based on those voters’ second choices. If a candidate reaches the threshold and is elected, any excess votes beyond the threshold are redistributed proportionately to those voters’ second choices. This process continues until candidates reach the winning threshold and all seats are filled. The process reduces wasted votes and ensures the majority of voters elect the majority of winners. See MPR’s explainer video.
In multi-seat races under our current system, your second choice does harm your first, and voters can strategize to “bullet vote” for one candidate, electing a less popular candidate most voters did not support. RCV eliminates this strategy. Your second choice counts only after your first choice has reached the winning threshold, ensuring that winning candidates are supported by the most voters.
Why is Ranked Choice Voting a better way to vote in our democracy?
RCV is a simple, proven change to the ballot that:
- Gives voters greater voice, choice and power
- Reduces political division and extremism
- Ensures whoever wins has a majority of voter support
- Fosters more civil campaigns and a more responsive government
- Promotes more inclusive, diverse and representative elections
- Eliminates the spoiler problem and wasted votes
- In local elections, eliminates the costly low-turnout primary and combines the primary and general elections into one election in November when turnout is higher and more representative of the community.
- For full discussion of benefits see: https://www.fairvotemn.org/why/
Research comparing election results across the country shows RCV is a significant benefit to women and candidates of color. Women and people of color are much more likely to run and win in higher numbers.
RCV gives greater opportunity to women and people of color by opening the process to more candidates and new voices, incentivizing positive campaigns based on the issues, and eliminating the risk of vote-splitting between candidates with similar platforms or from the same community.
In fact, RCV has accelerated the opportunity for candidates of color to run and win in Minnesota cities that have adopted this voting system. It eliminates the low-turnout and unrepresentative local primary that is a deterrent for new voices in general and for underrepresented communities in particular. Candidates must be able to raise money and mount a campaign to get the word out by early August, just to get through a primary that is woefully unrepresentative of the city’s voters. Since local elections are a significant pipeline to state elected office, local voting systems can have a significant impact on the diversity and representation in our state legislative bodies as well.
Read more for links to data, articles and powerful videos.
Under our current system in races with more than two candidates, third parties can tip the balance in close races and act as spoilers, resulting in winners with less than a majority of voter support. RCV eliminates this spoiler effect. It allows voters to vote for their favorite candidate, and then use their second choice as a backup in case their favorite doesn’t have enough support to win. And RCV ensures that the winning candidate has earned a majority of voter support.
Minnesota has a long tradition of third party candidates and multi-candidate races at all levels of government, especially in critical statewide races for president, governor and U.S. Senate. Third parties can tip the balance in close races and act as spoilers, resulting in winners with less than a majority. In 2014, Mark Dayton was the first candidate to win the governorship with a majority in 20 years, since 1994, and in 2018, Gov. Tim Walz was the first candidate in an open race to win with a majority in over 35 years. In 2020, the spoiler dynamic impacted several federal and state races, including CD1, CD2, SD27 and HD 55A, with evidence of one party using the spoiler effect as a strategy to help them win races.
In 2022 and for the second time, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate in the Second Congressional District race died: Adam Weeks in 2020 and Paula Overby in 2022. Since the deaths occurred so close to the election, both candidates remained on the ballot, and given the competitive nature of the district, those votes could have been decisive. Candidates and voters should not have to worry about vote splitting or votes being wasted. RCV would allow voters to vote for their favorite candidate, and then use their second choice as a backup in case their favorite drops out of the race or doesn’t have enough support to win.
RCV also provides a backup in case your candidate drops out after you voted early for that candidate, something that happened to thousands of Klobuchar and other voters on the eve of the 2020 presidential primary. If Minnesota had RCV, their votes would have been redistributed towards their second-choice candidate and not wasted.
RCV incentivizes candidates to campaign positively based on issues that matter to voters rather than on personal attacks. Candidates behave very differently when they benefit from second or third choice votes. They are less likely to attack an opponent because they don’t want to alienate their opponent’s base voters and risk losing second choice votes. This leads to more civil elections and encourages candidates, once in office, to be accountable and responsive to the broader electorate.
Research comparing ranked-choice and plurality elections confirms RCV’s positive impact on civility. While some candidates may try negative campaign tactics in ranked-choice elections, it’s not a successful strategy under RCV and often backfires. For more, see FairVote data on civility.
RCV ensures that the greatest number of voters support the winner. By requiring candidates to win with a majority, candidates need to move beyond their base and build broad coalitions of support. Not only does the outcome more accurately reflect the will of the voters, but a more broadly accountable candidate makes for a more responsive officeholder. RCV encourages our elected leaders to tackle the issues and deliver results, leading to a more effective, well-functioning government.
Ranked Choice Voting automatically increases voter participation in local elections by eliminating the low-turnout primary and allowing voters to consider the full slate of candidates in the general election when turnout is higher, more diverse and representative of the community.
The Minnesota experience demonstrates that RCV fosters more competitive races and has helped boost turnout in the general election. When St. Louis Park first used RCV in 2019, voter turnout increased by nearly 50 percent in the November general election, from 4,436 to 6,619 voters citywide, over 2015, the last similar election with the Mayor and both at-large council seats on the ballot. In 2021, turnout in Minneapolis was 54 percent, the highest for a municipal election in over 45 years, up from 43 percent in the last election cycle, which was up 10 percentage points from the election cycle in 2013, which exceeded turnout by 13 percentage points from the cycle before that. A similar trend was seen in St. Paul and in other cities across the country with the implementation of RCV.
RCV levels the playing field, allowing more candidates and a more diverse array of candidates to jump in the race, fostering competition and allowing all sides of the political spectrum to be represented and have their voices heard, without fear of spoilers or splitting the vote. Voter participation is higher under RCV by fostering more competitive elections with multiple candidates – a key driver of voter turnout. While opponents allege that RCV confuses voters and drives turnout down, the evidence shows just the opposite. As outlined above, voters report that RCV is easy to use, and Minnesota cities with ranked-choice elections have shown increasing voter participation. For more, see RCV experience in Minnesota cities.
What is the voter’s experience under RCV?
Voters simply rank candidates in order of preference, first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on.
No. Voters have the power to rank candidates, but their vote only counts for one candidate in the final round of counting. Every voter gets an equal vote. In each round of counting, your ballot counts as one vote for your highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your favorite candidate has been eliminated – just as in a traditional primary election – your choice is limited to one of the remaining candidates, and under RCV, your vote automatically counts for your next choice on the ballot.
No. To date, out of over 100 Minnesota races that have used RCV in which winners were decided in a runoff (with second- or third-choice votes), the second-place finisher won in only two of those elections. RCV simulates a runoff, but in a single election. So a second-place finisher in the first round of a ranked-choice election is similar to a second-place finisher in the primary winning the general election. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen in highly competitive races. This ensures that the winner is supported by a majority of the voters in those races, the very purpose of a runoff process.
No. Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice is eliminated. Your vote counts for your third choice only if your first and second choices are eliminated.
No. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you like, up to the limit of choices permitted by the final rules of the election.
The general rule is to allow for a minimum of three choices, and that is what is prescribed in the RCV legislation for local use. In the five cities that use RCV for their municipal elections, St. Paul and Bloomington allow voters to rank up to six choices, while Minneapolis, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park allow voters to rank up to three choices due to ballot design limitations. The value of ranking is to ensure your ballot continues to count if your first choice is eliminated, and the more a voter ranks, the more power their ballot has in deciding the outcome of the election. The Statewide Implementation Taskforce will determine the number of rankings allowed for state and federal partisan elections.
The vast majority of voters rank at least two candidates, and most rank more. Voters understand that the more candidates they rank (up to the number of rankings allowed on the ballot), the more power their ballot has in deciding the outcome of the election.
However, some voters may want to vote for only a single candidate and that is their choice. By ranking only one candidate, they have indicated that, if their first choice is eliminated, they do not have a preference among those candidates remaining. It is their right to express this opinion under Ranked Choice Voting.
In the end, the winning candidate has a majority of votes continuing in the final round.
Whether using RCV or the current system, mistakes are handled the same way. Just like now, if you make a mistake on your RCV ballot that would disqualify or “spoil” your ballot, the precinct tabulator would reject your ballot, and you would have an opportunity to get a new ballot and have your vote counted.
What we have learned about the use of RCV in Minnesota and elsewhere is that voters are highly capable and proficient at ranking their ballots, with a nearly 100 percent valid ballot rate in recent RCV elections.
The RCV tabulation process used most commonly in Minnesota allows for next-day results, and this process would be even more efficient once RCV tabulation software is certified in Minnesota, as provided by the RCV legislation.
Laws in other states regarding the timing and processing of mailed ballots have caused delays in reporting some ranked-choice election results; those delays were not caused by RCV. In California, New York City, and Alaska, state law allows all absentee ballots to be mailed on Election Day, and final tabulation must wait two weeks for all the ballots to arrive and be fully processed. Once the ballots are in and scanned, RCV tabulation software provides instant results.
In Minnesota, all ballots must arrive on Election Day to be counted and so there should not be any delay in providing RCV results, especially once RCV tabulation software is certified.
- FairVote MN website
- 2021 RCV Election Overview
- RCV in MN Cities Fact Sheet 2009-2020
- Results are in: NYC Ranked Choice Voting Primary Election Success
- Kunesh in Star Tribune: Minnesota should join Alaska, pioneer ranked-choice reform
- Reformer: Minnesota showing the benefits of ranked choice voting
- Osterholm & Slavitt in Star Tribune: Only ranked-choice voting could save American democracy now
- Star Tribune: Ranked choice in the presidential primary? Not this time, obviously, but next time, please
- Star Tribune: Interest in ranked-choice voting surges
- 2021 RCV Voter Testimonial Videos
- American Academy of Arts & Sciences Report Recommending RCV
- New Survey Shows Overwhelming Favorability for Ranked Choice Voting in Federal Elections
- Jan. 6 votes show the link between primary system and more extreme views in Congress
- Walter Olson, Cato Institute: A Good Idea Deserves a Tryout
- Electoral Reform Research Group: Ranked-Choice Voting Delivers Representation and Consensus in Presidential Primaries
- Center for Campaign Innovation: Measuring The Effects Of Ranked Choice Voting In Republican Primaries
- Independence Institute: The Conservative Case for Ranked Choice Voting
- Maya Wiley in WAPO: I lost the NYC mayoral race, but women and minorities win with ranked-choice voting
- Represent Women Report: In Ranked Choice Elections, Women Win
- Lee Drutman in NYT: Trump’s Election May have been the shock we needed
- Washington Post: Give ranked voting a shot. Our democracy would benefit
- The Economist: In praise of ranked-choice-voting