INSTANT-RUNOFF ELECTIONS AN IDEA WORTH CONSIDERING
Pioneer Press Editorial
February 5, 2004
Roseville citizens have a well-deserved reputation for being
informed and highly engaged in the local political process. They vote in great
numbers, and they turn out for civic meetings and public hearings. Dozens of
candidates file for city offices each year, giving voters a wide choice in
almost every election.
Last spring, when city officials were
toying with the idea of eliminating the primary election for city offices,
hundreds of citizens turned out to raise Cain and succeeded in holding off the
proposal. It was not the first election reform put forward by Roseville
leaders in an attempt to save money and boost turnout. In 2002, the City
Council moved city elections to even years beginning in 2006 to piggyback on
bigger statewide and national votes.
Now city leaders are embarking on another
bold election reform path that, like the proposal to eliminate the primary,
would save the city's taxpayers some money. The plan, called instant-runoff
voting, is worth a serious look. Give the city points for continuous electoral
innovation if for nothing else.
Instant-runoff voting would allow
residents to cast votes for all candidates on the ballot in descending order
of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the
candidate with the least first-place votes is eliminated and the second-choice
votes on his ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates. The
process continues until a winner is determined.
The savings for the city, at least
monetarily, would be modest -- less than $20,000 per primary. But the
intangibles would be greater -- a shorter election season, perhaps fewer lawn
signs, one-shot voting for citizens.
Instant-runoff voting also helps to take
the spoiler factor out of partisan elections. If a Libertarian candidate gets
10 percent of the vote, the Republican 42 percent and the Democrat 48 percent,
under the current rules, the Democrat wins, even though many of the
Libertarians might have preferred the Republican (feel free to substitute
Green or Independence or any other party into the example above and to flip
Democrat and Republican). In Minnesota, with its strong third-party tradition,
instant-runoff is particularly appealing.
Roseville city officials have asked state
lawmakers to clarify election law to allow instant-runoff elections.
It's worth a try, but the Legislature
will have to move quickly if Roseville is to use the new process for its
special council election this spring.