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Could a new method of voting come to Minnesota?

Ranked choice voting is already here, having been adopted for municipal elections in cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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Ranked-choice voting is an alternative to the current voting system that has gained more support in recent years.
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WORTHINGTON — A representative of FairVote MN, an organization that advocates for ranked choice voting, visited Worthinton’s City Hall last week to give a presentation on the concept.

Ranked choice voting — also known as instant run-off voting — is a type of election that ensures the candidates must receive over 50% majority of the vote in order to be declared the winner. It’s done by having voters rank their candidates in order of preference. If no candidates receive the majority vote in the first round of voting, counting proceeds to the next. Whichever candidate received the least amount of “first choice” votes is eliminated, and instead, their second place votes go to the next candidate they’ve selected, until the majority of votes are secured.

“Ranked choice voting does not favor one party or the other,” said Maureen Reed, with FairVote MN. “It actually favors the party and the candidate who can get the broadest appeal.”

That’s just one reason Reed says ranked-choice voting should be considered as an alternative to the current voting system. Ranked choice voting can streamline the election process by consolidating multiple elections — for example, a primary and general election — into just one election.

While education and the “newness” of ranked-choice voting is a challenge to the popularity of the concept, Reed said 95% of first-time ranked-choice voters polled in Minneapolis found the process simple to use.

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But the benefit Reed talks most about is this: decreasing political hostility and empowering voters. The “winner takes all” approach of plurality voting — the method currently used throughout most of the U.S. — leads to candidates focusing on turning out their base instead of promoting their issues to potential voters, Reed said. However, with that over 50% majority the only way to win an election, candidates have to reach out to other potential voters in hopes of being a second choice.

“As a candidate,” Reed said, in a series of hypotheticals, “I now need to appeal to a wider audience … I need to court voters that would want me as their second choice. So I would approach that person and I would say, ‘gee, how can I earn your second place vote?’ And I'm not going to beat up on the other candidates to do that … I'm going to be talking about issues.”

She says studies find voters are typically happier with the results of those elections, feeling like they did more to participate, even if their first choice didn’t win.

Two states in the U.S. have adopted ranked choice voting as their method of choice for elections on a statewide level — Maine and Alaska. Cities across the country have also made the switch, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, and St. Louis Park, who all used ranked-choice voting in their municipal elections this year.

While only charter cities in the state of Minnesota can legally adopt ranked choice voting at this time, FairVote MN is working toward legislation that will allow local jurisdictions to adopt ranked choice voting if they want to. The ultimate goal is to implement ranked choice voting statewide, for all local, state and federal elections — an effort that starts with educating voters and garnering support.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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