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Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Instant runoff: A voting method worthy of debate
July 5, 2001

Any election is about votes, but the Minneapolis city election this year could offer an interesting twist: It could include a public debate about how to vote -- or, more precisely, how best to register and count votes in races involving more than two candidates.

A petition drive is in progress that could put on the Minneapolis ballot this fall a switch to a voting method called "instant runoff voting" in future city elections.

It is a voting method that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, as many or as few as they like. Votes for the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes are redistributed according to their second choices, until one candidate achieves a majority or, in the case of multiseat elections, passes the threshold needed for election. The consequences are much the same as conducting a runoff election, without the time and expense of opening the polls for a second time.

Instant runoff voting has been used in various democracies around the world since the mid-1800s. But it has not caught on in the United States because most elections here have been two-way contests -- until recently.

The rise of serious third-party candidates -- Gov. Jesse Ventura most prominent among them -- is propelling new interest in the method. It would enable third-party voters to redirect their votes to the alternative candidate of their choice, should their candidate not emerge on top. No more would they be accused of casting a "wasted vote," or of playing the spoiler.

Instant runoff voting has detractors, too, particularly among those who want to maintain two-party dominance in American politics. Instant runoff voting encourages more choices but also results in a winner who can claim majority support.

The merits and defects of instant runoff voting will become matters of public debate, if the petition drive led by a coalition of election reformers and third-party activists succeeds in landing a voting-method charter change on the November ballot. It would be a debate worth having. Minneapolis voters can help make it happen by contacting David Kaminsky at 612-331-1681, or at [email protected].

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