What is ranked-choice voting and why is it up for debate in Minnesota?
Voters in Minnetonka will decide on Tuesday whether they want to keep ranked-choice voting.
Minnetonka became the fifth Minnesota city to enact it in 2020, following Minneapolis in 2009 and later, St. Paul, St. Louis Park and Bloomington.
Here’s how it works:
Ranked-choice voting eliminates primaries. Instead, during the November election, voters select a first, second and third-choice candidate.
In round 1, just the first-choice votes are counted, like any other election. If one has more than a 50% majority, that’s it. It’s decided.
If no first choice gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
Then it’s round 2, and voters who ranked the now-eliminated candidate first have their vote transferred to their second choice.
The process continues until a candidate gets more than 50% of the votes.
The ranked-choice voting system is a nationwide trend that began in response to frustration over the current state of divisive, polarized politics, said Erin Zamoff, the director of communications and public relations for FairVote Minnesota, a ranked-choice voting advocate.
“It’s becoming more extreme and toxic, and voters across the political spectrum — from Republicans, Democrats, independents — they are really hungry for solutions. They are tired of the divisiveness,” Zamoff said.
“So many Americans are frustrated when they get into a voting booth, and they see two candidates they don’t like,” added University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs politics professor Larry Jacobs.
“And ranked-choice voting says, ‘No, vote for your favorite candidate. And by the way, here are opportunities to vote for your second and third favorite candidates that are different, and allows voters to express their true preferences about candidates without worrying about the strategy of, ‘Well, gee, if I vote for candidate A, I’m actually helping to elect another candidate who I seriously dislike.'”
Jacobs — who’s spent time studying it — said he’s not an opponent of ranked-choice voting, but he is a skeptic.
“I think the question on whether ranked-choice voting works is unknown. And I would just caution that we not jump into it,” he explained.
“Ranked-choice voting is complicated. You’ve got to rank three different candidates. Voters aren’t used to that… Plus, it really requires a lot of information from voters, you’ve got to know the pool of candidates.”
“First of all, ranked-choice voting is simple,” Zamoff rebutted.
“It’s not confusing, and people who are saying that, I think, are undermining confidence in voters.”
“I would say there are… many signs that our democracy is under threat,” she continued. “And I really think ranked-choice voting has so much potential to heal those divisions and make our system better.”
Those same arguments are at the heart of the decision on the ballot in Minnetonka. A “yes” vote would repeal ranked-choice voting, and a “no” would be a vote to keep it.
Ranked-choice voting passed in the city in 2020, with 55% of residents voting for it.