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City approves task force to look at alternative voting systems
By Marc Ingber
August 26, 2004

In recent years the city of Hopkins has had some elections where the winning candidate did not receive the majority of the vote. But the city is investigating options that would ensure that won't continue to happen.

At its Aug. 17 meeting, the city council approved the creation of a task force to look into alternative voting methods.

When more than two candidates run for a position it is common for the winning person to take the seat without winning the majority, which has happened in recent Hopkins mayoral and City Council elections.

The task force is going to look at the possibility of having an Instant Runoff Voting system, where voters are allowed to rank candidates, rather than vote for only one in each category.

"With this system you're always assured the winning candidate will have the majority of the vote," said Jim Genellie, acting city manager.

The way the Instant Runoff Voting system works is: each voter would rank their top three (or more) candidates on the ballot. If the candidate who received the highest number of No. 1 votes does not have more than 50 percent of those votes, then the No. 2 votes are counted, and so on.

"It sounds cumbersome, but if you can do it with a computer it's very simple," Genellie said.

San Francisco is trying this process in its mayoral election this year. Other cities have tried or will try similar processes, but no city in Minnesota is using the system.

Genellie said nothing the task force decides would affect this year's election and probably not even next year's. But if Hopkins does end up using this process in the future, he hopes it will catch on in other cities and even on the state level, he said.

He said the ranking process has benefits besides assuring a candidate with a majority of votes wins.

"People might be willing to vote for third-party candidates," he said. "It would no longer be a case of wasting your vote."

Another benefit of the ranking process is that it would curb a lot of negative campaigning, Genellie said.

"You're also trying to appeal to the supporters of other candidates," he said. "If you're not No. 1, you want to be No. 2."

Fran Hesch, vice chairperson of the Hopkins Charter Commission, said less negative campaigning would increase voter turnout.

"What I like about Instant Runoff Voting is that it brings people to discuss the issues," she said.

For the runoff voting process to be approved for local elections the city's Charter Commission would have to recommend it and the City Council would have to pass it unanimously, Genellie said.

However, the council doesn't have the power to change the school board voting system because the state controls those elections. To change the school board elections the council would have to request permission from the state.

Genellie said he doesn't necessarily support or defend changing Hopkins to a runoff system, but it should definitely be looked into. What the task force will do is review the history and success of alternative voting systems and report its findings to the Charter Commission.

He said he was unsure if the process would be approved in the future, but it had a chance.

"This council has certainly advocated to get more people involved in the government," Genellie said. "This system would actually do that."

Hesch, who has volunteered to serve on the task force, said she hopes the group will have someone who is against runoff voting.

"We want to make sure everyone is represented so no one thinks it's biased," she said.

Instant run-off voting

Instant run-off voting is a ranking based voting system. With it, voters would rank their top three (or more) candidates and if a candidate did not receive more than 50 percent of No. 1 votes, then No. 2 votes would be counted, and so on.

Jim Genellie, acting city manager, said this system would curb negative campaigning and improve the chances of third party candidates in addition to guaranteeing the winning candidate a majority win. For more information on Instant Runoff Voting log onto

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