Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Democracy advances in the Midwest

I'm so proud!

Minneapolis voters likely will get a chance to consider instant-runoff voting in city elections, eliminating primaries and greatly leveling the playing field for independent candidates.

The idea could be a ballot question this November. But don't hold your breath after that: Because such a system means someone's ox is being gored, it will be awhile before such a system is implemented.

Even if voters approve the change, a new style of voting could be a long way off in Minneapolis because of the cost and potential legal challenges....

The earliest city election that could be affected by the change would be in 2009, but Benson said the council could push that back if the cost of acquiring the software to count the votes is prohibitive.

"I don't think anybody on the council is interested in spending $1 million to do this," he said.

To their credit, the Minneapolis DFL (that's Democrats to you out-of-staters) supports the idea. Republicans generally oppose it, for the vaguest reasons. When Roseville tried to adopt the system in 2004, State Senate Democrats approved it but the Republican-controlled House shot it down. House Speaker Steve Sviggum suggested it violates the "one person, one vote" system.

Maybe Sviggum really believes that. Or maybe he's concerned that IRV lessens the influence of parties and empowers voters to vote for the person they really want, rather than choosing the major party candidate that offends them the least.

There are legitimate practical concerns about IRV -- how to ensure the ballots aren't confusing, how to deal with races where, say, six candidates are competing for two open seats, and so on. But those are technical questions, and solvable; they do not justify slamming the door on IRV. As wielded by Sviggum and others, they are just a smoke screen.

If Minneapolis adopts the system, the next step would be to see it applied to county and state races. Minnesota governor races, in particular, have been three-way circuses in recent years; instant-runoff voting would have made those contests fairer and more accurate, with the winner truly reflecting the electorate's preferences.

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