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.
 
    USEFUL LINKS
 
    -- Center for Voting and Democracy: www.fairvote.org/irv
    -- Midwest Democracy Center: www.instantrunoff.com
    -- Election Methods Education and Research Group: www.electionmethods.org/IRVproblems.htm
    -- Mount Holyoke College:  www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/articles/irv.html

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