Elections have always left some voters feeling disgruntled.
FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, is
advocating a new form of tallying votes that would attempt to reduce
these problems, making every vote count.
In a presentation on March 19 in Hopkins, Tony Anderson Solgard,
chairman of FairVote Minnesota, said several problems arise out of
the voting system now in place, what he called the ’Äúfirst past the
According to Solgard, in this system, only the largest group wins
representation in an election. The candidate that gets past the
’Äúpost’Äù first wins the position, no matter if that candidate has the
support of a majority of registered voters or not. ’ÄúEveryone else
loses, even if everyone else is the majority of the voters,’Äù he
said. For this reason, the system is sometimes referred to as
’Äúwinner takes all.’Äù
Solgard, who was also a past member of the Minnesota DFL Party
State Executive Committee, said that too often, seats go to
candidates without the majority’Äôs approval. He said that for the top
individual positions in the state of Minnesota, 10 of the last 11
election winners won with less than a majority vote. He said the
most prominent of these victors was Jesse Ventura, who won with only
35 percent of voters voting for him.
Solgard said that in the ’Äúfirst past the post’Äù system, candidates
often resort to desperate campaign tactics to win. He said that
negative campaigns often target swing voters, the voters who are
undecided. He said this tactic cheapens discourse. ’ÄúWho are they
speaking to? They’Äôre not speaking to you and me, the people who are
engaged,’Äù said Solgard.
He said that across a population, the group of voters with the
largest number of votes get their officials elected. The remainder
of the population does not receive any sort of representation, even
though it may make up the majority of voters.
Solgard said that elections that use wards for residents to vote
usually succumb to the same pitfall. Though wards promote geographic
diversity, they still allow the largest group to win. ’ÄúTrends in the
population tend to be distributed throughout the population,’Äù he
explained. He said that in his hometown of Minneapolis, 60 percent
of voters are DFL-affiliated, but all the City Council positions are
held by DFL-affiliated candidates.
Two-round elections also have their share of problems, said
Solgard. With a primary and a final election, the process is longer
and more costly. Also, reducing a large field of candidates to two
in one step may be too abrupt. Solgard pointed to the election in
France last year where the vote was split among so many factions,
that voters were surprised to find a ’Äúneo-fascist,’Äù Jean-Marie Le
Pen, one of the elected candidates.
Solgard also said that two-round elections practically encourage
the final candidates to sling mud. He said that the candidates try
to ’Äúmake the other guy look muddier. You’Äôve just got mud on your
hands. They’Äôve got mud all over.’Äù
The solution to these problems, said Solgard, is preference
voting. Under this process, voters select which candidates they
would like to win, and in what order. Instead of voting for a single
candidate or a group of candidates, each voter forms a list of
candidates ranked in the order of preference.
The new process would require candidates to achieve a majority of
votes. This factor significantly changes the tallying of votes. Say,
for example, that three candidates run for a single seat and none
immediately receives the majority of the votes. The candidate who
received the lowest number of votes would be removed from the race,
and all the votes that person received would instead be added to the
respective second choices on the ballots. Solgard said that in many
instances, the candidate that at first seemed the victor would come
in second place.
The preference voting process would eliminate the ’Äúwasted vote
syndrome,’Äù according to Solgard. Even if voters’Äô first choices do
not win, their votes would go to their second choices.
Hopkins resident Fran Hesch, who organized the event, said that
this system would have helped her in the 2000 election. She wanted
to vote for third-party candidate Ralph Nader, but wasn’Äôt sure if
she should have voted for Al Gore instead. In the end she voted her
heart and decided on Nader. ’ÄúSome people would say I threw my vote
away, but a system like this would allow you to have your cake and
eat it too,’Äù she said.
Solgard said that the benefits under preference voting would be
numerous. He said that it would broaden representation, strengthen
accountability, deepen discourse on issues and increase
participation. ’ÄúThere’Äôs no such thing as a wasted vote here,’Äù he
Rep. Jim Rhodes, R-44A, attended the meeting and said that
politicians need to consider preference voting. ’ÄúThis issue needs to
be brought to the table,’Äù he said. ’ÄúWe can’Äôt just dismiss it.’Äù He
suggested testing the system in a small pilot election.
Solgard said that the Minnesota Senate is already debating a bill
that would implement preference voting in some instances. The bill,
Senate File Number 629, is authored by Sen. Linda Scheid,
According to Solgard, the sole disadvantage to preference voting
would be the cost. New machines to tabulate the votes might be
expensive. However, he said that the state of Minnesota has some
funds earmarked to buy new voting equipment in the near future. He
hopes to persuade state officials to consider preference voting when
purchasing the equipment.
Solgard advocated testing the preference voting system slowly at
first. He suggested that small elections begin piloting instant
runoff voting, a preference voting process for electing candidates
to single-seat positions, like mayors or presidents. He said that
after elections have used this procedure, then cities could hold
elections for races with multiple positions, like city councils or
school boards. Solgard said that implementing preference voting into
mainstream elections would take time. ’ÄúIt’Äôs an incremental change,’Äù