Duluth voters might elect
next mayor in a new way
December 17, 2002
RUNOFF: Supporters say a change would ensure that candidates with
the strongest support advance, but opponents say the current system
Some Duluth city leaders want to look at
changing the way voters will pick the next mayor.
The Duluth City Council on Monday night asked the Charter
Commission to look at implementing instant-runoff voting for next
year's mayoral primary.
"This is an important election," said Council President Donny
Ness, who drafted the resolution. "This is needed so that the top
two candidates in the general election have the widest and broadest
Under the plan, primary voters would rank candidates in order of
preference. The candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and those
voters' second choices are redistributed to the remaining
candidates. That goes on until the top two candidates are selected
and advance to the general election, which would use the current
Supporters say runoff voting ensures the election of the
candidate preferred by most voters, eliminates the spoiler
candidates from knocking off major candidates and promotes more
Other states have seen spoiler scenarios that could play out in
Duluth, Ness said.
Green Party candidates threw races to Republicans in recent U.S.
House of Rep- resentative races in New Mexico, and Libertarians and
Alaskan Independent Party candidates knocked off Republicans in
legislative races in that state.
Supporters also say that ranking candidates means voters don't
see their vote as being for "the lesser of two evils" because their
ballot is still counted if their top choice is eliminated.
Instant-runoff voting is needed in Duluth because of the high
number of candidates expected to enter the race, Ness said.
Several Duluthians have already said they are running for the
city's top elected office, and many expect the next mayoral field to
have more than a dozen candidates. Mayor Gary Doty has said he won't
seek a fourth term, fueling speculation that the field could be the
largest in recent history.
Under the current system, candidates in a wide-open field could
advance to the general election with just a small percentage of the
That gives too much power to special interests who could rally
just enough votes to get their candidate to the general election,
Not everybody favors changing the system.
"The candidate who works the hardest is going to get the most
votes," said Charles Bell, a West Duluth businessman who has said he
is running for mayor. "The current system works."
Changing the voting system just for the primary, and not
subsequent offices or races, could confuse voters, Bell said.
The Charter Commission, the board that oversees the city charter,
will review the idea and send a recommendation back to the council
and mayor for final approval.
Instant-runoff voting isn't a sure thing in Duluth, even if the
Charter Commission recommends amending the city charter. The council
must unanimously approve the change, or it could go to a referendum
where voters could decide its fate.
Doty is leery of making the change so quickly.
"It's absolutely worth considering," the mayor said Monday. "But
I don't know if we want to rush into something like that. Maybe it's
something we look at for the future."
How does it
work? Voters rank candidates in order of preference: one, two, three
and so on. It takes a majority to win. If anyone receives a majority
of the first-choice votes, that candidate is elected. If not, the
last-place candidate is defeated and all ballots are counted again,
but this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for
the second-choice candidate listed on the ballot. The process of
eliminating the last-place candidate and recounting the ballots
continues until one candidate receives a majority.
Does instant-runoff voting affect voter turnout? Yes. Turnout
generally increases. Instant-runoff voting gives every voter
incentive to participate because their vote still counts even if
their first-choice candidate is defeated.
Who uses instant-runoff voting? Ireland to elect its president,
Australia to elect its House of Representatives and the American
Political Science Association to elect its president. Cambridge,
Mass., uses a variant of instant-runoff voting to elect its City
Council and hundreds of jurisdictions, organizations and
corporations use it around the world.
SOURCE: The Center for
Voting and Democracy