With a simple yes or no question, Bloomington is asking its voters if the city should join Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park in choosing its mayor and council members by ranked-choice voting.
Also referred to as instant runoff or preferential voting, the process asks voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of the votes in the initial tabulation, meaning more than 50%, the candidate wins. If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who picked the eliminated candidate as their first choice would have their second-choice vote added to the tally of remaining candidates. This process repeats until one candidate has a majority of the votes.
Voters are being asked if the Bloomington City Charter should be amended to allow the system for City Council elections. For the amendment to pass, 51% of the votes must be in favor of it. Ranked-choice voting would be instituted during the city’s 2021 elections, and would eliminate the need for a primary election.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting have been promoting the system for more than a year. Laura Calbone, chairwoman of The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting Bloomington, became interested in instituting the system for city elections after attending a presentation by FairVote Minnesota in Richfield. The nonprofit organization advocates for ranked-choice voting, and Calbone saw the system as a way to diminish the polarization and partisanship of elections, she explained.
Following the meeting, Calbone began discussing the idea with Marcia Wattson, a League of Women Voters member who serves as the Bloomington committee’s treasurer. The duo has worked since the summer of 2019 to bring ranked-choice voting to a vote in Bloomington. The Bloomington Charter Commission voted 7-5 against introducing the question on this fall’s ballot, but the City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the ballot question this fall.
Calbone thinks it is in the best interest of the city to add the question to the ballot this fall, given a presidential election year results in a high turnout of Bloomington voters.
Ranked-choice voting offers a variety of benefits to the city, she said. Given the financial challenges the city is facing due to decreased lodging and entertainment tax revenue since the coronavirus pandemic began, ranked-choice voting will eliminate the cost of running a primary next summer, “An easy way for the city to start saving money,” she said.
Ranked-choice voting encourages a more diverse field of candidates, according to Calbone. A city council primary election typically draws less than 10% of eligible voters, and those who show up for the primary are older, affluent and less diverse, she said. That makes it harder for new candidates to the election process to reach the November ballot. Ranked-choice voting would allow all candidates an opportunity to build support into November, when a more diverse body of voters casts a ballot, she explained.
The system aims to build a consensus choice among the candidates, and that encourages candidates to seek support from voters who have deemed another candidate their first choice, rather than ignore the voter or attempt to sway the voter with an attack on an opponent, Calbone noted.
The Bloomington committee has the support of FairVote Minnesota in its effort to bring ranked-choice voting to Bloomington, and the committee has funded its efforts through donations and foundation grants, Calbone said.
The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting Bloomington has been working for more than a year to drum up support. A group opposed to the ranked-choice voting, Ranked Choice Voting is a Scam, put together its campaign when the Council voted to put the charter amendment on the ballot, according to Kolten Kranz, a spokesperson for the group.
The group is comprised of concerned residents that are focused on Bloomington’s ballot question, and is not part of a state or national organization opposing ranked-choice voting, Kranz said.
The group built a website, has signs encouraging voters to reject ranked-choice voting and has distributed literature outlining its opposition, he explained.
Kranz became involved with the opposition group after researching how the system works. “I did not see any sort of positive benefit,” he said.
The current election system gives everyone an equal voice by counting ballots one time, whereas ranked-choice voting opens up the opportunity for ballots to be exhausted – eliminated from the tabulation – if the ballot runs out of ranked choices due to multiple rounds of retabulation, according to Kranz.
He disputes that ranked-choice voting increases voter participation, pointing to voter turnout in Minneapolis as an example. Eliminating a primary election and advancing all candidates to the November ballot has not always improved voter turnout in November, he explained.
And he is concerned that voters are being asked to support a system that has yet to be defined for Bloomington. Ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis, for example, limits voters to ranking three candidates on a ballot. “We should definitely know how they plan to run ranked-choice voting before we vote on it,” he said. “I think that’s a big red flag.”
The group’s website has a variety of articles and other resources supporting its opposition to ranked-choice voting, as well as a copy of its brochure.
The group has support from residents who are part of the Bloomington Patriots. The Patriots are vocal, concerned citizens, according to Kranz. The Patriots organize political activities, but the Ranked Choice Voting is a Scam group is separate, he said, although the Patriots’ Facebook page has directed visitors to the Ranked Choice Voting is a Scam website. The opposition group has received support and resources from Patriots members, Kranz noted.
He did not choose the group’s name, but supports the claim that ranked-choice voting is a scam, explaining that a scam is anything that is being pushed upon people. “It does not hold up to its claims,” he said.
Information about the city’s ballot question is available online at tr.im/ballotq. Information from The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting Bloomington is available online at rcvbloomington.org. Information from Ranked Choice Voting is a Scam is available online at rcvscam.com.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.