The Brooklyn Park City Council voted unanimously Feb. 8 to not amend the city’s charter to use ranked-choice voting for city elections.
During the public hearing at the council meeting, the council heard statements for and against ranked-choice voting from city residents and supportive comments about how ranked-choice voting encourages voters and a wider range of candidates to seek office from Minneapolis and St. Paul elected officials.
As the name implies, ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank their choices for an office. The second- and third-choice selections are used to determine who wins an election if one candidate does not get a 50 percent plus one vote majority.
Rebecca Noecker, newly elected to the St. Paul City Council, told the council that her experience with ranked-choice voting is nothing but positive. As a newcomer to politics, she felt confident in her first campaign.
“I found it was a much less threatening process,” she said.
Minneapolis City Councilmember Linea Palmisano said she had not considered
running for the council because she would surely have been eliminated in the primary election. As a young, female candidate with a name that people have difficulty to pronounce, she didn’t stand a chance in a primary.
“Ranked-choice voting contributed to my running for office,” she said. “This would be one way to get people like me to run.”
Another benefit to ranked-choice is that candidates work to get to know more voters than just their expected core of supporters, because they need to seek support for second- or third-choice votes, Palmisano said.
“It shifted my views of who I was representing in my district,” she said.
One of constitutional principles of our country is that one person gets one vote, city resident Joe Dwyer told the council.
“Ranked-choice voting destroys that basic premise of the Constitution,” he said. “I don’t think it is fair for my vote to be diluted in a ranked-choice vote.”
Ranked-choice has been used in elections around the world, has elected prime ministers and presidents and in Australia for 150 years, city resident Pat Ament told the council.
“I think it would go a long way to correct some of the problems with our two-party system,” she said. “Every community that adopts it corrects what’s wrong with our system.”
Nausheena Hussain, a charter commission member and a city resident for 13 years, stepped forward to the microphone wearing a jihab covering her head. The leadership of her city doesn’t look like her, with all Caucasians in the leadership positions, she stressed.
“I believe it (ranked-choice voting) will help me see more people like me” in leadership, she said, drawing her comment on the city’s new branding statement. “If you truly want Brooklyn Park to be united, unique and undiscovered, you’ll encourage that diversity to serve alongside of you as elected officials.”
Several of the council members said they think the city’s election system works. They also stressed that the challenge for the city isn’t voter participation, but rather getting diverse candidates to work for leadership positions.
“I don’t know what the problem is we are trying to solve,” with changing to ranked-choice voting, Councilmember John Jordan said. “Apparently we have a broken system in Brooklyn Park. I’m here to tell you it isn’t broken.”
Councilmember Terry Parks said the majority of the
telephone calls he fielded on ranked-choice were against the voting method. He also noted that he’s worked as an election judge for years and that the city has high voter turnout. The politics of Minneapolis and St. Paul are different than those of Brooklyn Park, he added.
“I don’t want to be like Minneapolis or St. Paul. I want to be Brooklyn Park,” Parks said.
Both Councilmembers Mike Trepanier, who represents the central district, and Peter Crema, who represents the east district, said at the meeting they don’t intend to seek reelection in the fall, creating openings for new candidates. Both said they have asked people of color and women to run for the council, and Crema noted that several of the current council members are willing to share their knowledge with up-and-coming candidates.
“What’s best for Brooklyn Park is not ranked-choice voting,” Trepanier said, adding that the city leaders deal with livability issues like streets, potholes and public safety, not political issues.
Other than the mayoral election in 2011 after Mayor Steve Lampi died, there have only been council races where there are two candidates and incumbents running unopposed, Crema noted.
“I don’t think this is what we need to do today,” he said.
The council members recounted stories of how they painted their own yard signs made of plywood, got flyers printed at copy stores and knocked on doors to make themselves known to voters when running for elected office. “I’ve run against people of color. I’ve run against people who are white,” Councilmember Rich Gates said. “What we need is more people to run and be involved in the process. We just need people to run.”
Councilmember Bob Mata, who ran unopposed in the last election, agreed with Gates.
“No one else filed,” he said. “Ranke- choice voting will not change that.”
All candidates have to work to get elected, Mayor Jeff Lunde said. Being elected in Brooklyn Park isn’t about raising and spending a lot of money, but rather knocking on doors and promoting yourself to voters.
“You have to door knock on every house if you want to win,” Lunde said. “What we are trying to fix, is getting more diverse backgrounds. There’s a way to fix that. It’s called walking shoes.”
The vote sends the matter of ranked-choice voting back to the city’s charter commission. The commission could put changing the city’s charter to use ranked-choice voting on the general election ballot for voters to decide.
The charter commission first considered the idea of using ranked-choice voting when then City Manager Jamie Verbrugge suggested it in 2011. That was after Lampi’s death and the special election that drew 12 candidates and put Lunde in the mayor’s seat with 32 percent of the vote.
Before the public hearing, John Hultquist, a charter commission member, presented the long timeline of the commission’s work on the voting method as a way to show that the commission did not bring ranked-choice to the council on a whim, but rather did a lot of work and thinking about suggesting the change.
Back in 2014, the commission had a split vote on preparing a recommendation to the city council, but voted unanimously in December to bring that recommendation to the city council, Hultquist said.
“There remain some people on the charter commission who are opposed to ranked-choice voting,” he said. “However, we all felt this is the plan we wanted to present to the council.”
Contact Gretchen Schlosser at email@example.com