Minnetonka voters will decide the fate of future city elections as this year’s ballot includes a question on whether the city charter should be changed to allow ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting is a voting system that eliminates the need for a primary election because voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference – first choice, second choice and third choice, etc.
If Minnetonka voters adopt ranked-choice voting, it will be used for mayoral and City Council elections. It will not change the way residents vote for school board, county, state or federal offices.
The discussion began last September with residents asking the City Council to implement ranked-choice voting, which the council then passed on to the Charter Commission for a review as required by law. The new voting method would require a change in the charter and a full study was requested before any formal action was taken.
During the commission’s review, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the matter as in-person meetings came to a halt.
Ranked-choice voting proponents asked the council to accelerate the review process by adopting an ordinance amendment for the charter to consider.
After two months of review, the Charter Commission rejected the ordinance amendment and urged the council not to adopt it.
“If given more time, I think some of these issues could have been a little bit more clearly explained or maybe even debunked a little bit,” said Councilmember Brian Kirk at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Charter Commission’s list of concerns. The concerns included the potential financial impact and the risk of exhausted ballots, which occurs when all the candidates marked on a ballot have been eliminated in prior rounds.
The council agreed to let voters decide as part of this year’s general election.
“I think it makes sense to move it to the November ballot to get this issue behind us,” Councilmember Rebecca Schack said at the meeting. “I think it’s something that’s going to be decided by the voters one way or another.”
How ranked-choice voting works
Ballots may be counted in one or more rounds. The first round is tallied using first-preference votes. If a candidate wins a majority of the first-preference votes in the first round, that candidate is the winner.
If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and all first-preference votes for the eliminated candidate are also eliminated. The ballot then proceeds to a second round.
In the second round, the votes of everyone who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first preference are redistributed among the remaining candidates, based on those voters’ second preferences.
The process is repeated until one candidate has won a majority of all unexhausted ballots. Ballot exhaustion occurs when all the candidates marked on a ballot have been eliminated in prior rounds. For example, a voter might rank three of six candidates. If all the voter’s choices are eliminated in the first three rounds of tabulating votes, the voter’s ballot is exhausted and won’t factor into subsequent rounds.
The winning candidate is determined by the majority of ballots that have not been exhausted.
The ballot question and what it means
The ballot question will read: “Proposed Charter Amendment: Electing Mayor and City Council By Ranked Choice Voting - Shall the Minnetonka City Charter be amended to adopt Ranked Choice Voting as the method for electing the Mayor and City Council members, without a separate primary election and with ballot format and rules for counting votes to be adopted by ordinance?”
Voting “yes” means you are in favor of using ranked-choice voting to elect the mayor and council members, beginning in November 2021 and thereby eliminating the use of primary elections for mayor and council positions.
Voting “no” means you’re in favor of Minnetonka continuing to use the current election system, which asks voters to vote for one candidate per office and thereby continuing use of primary elections whenever more than two candidates run for mayor or a particular City Council seat.
Potential financial impact
If ranked-choice voting is adopted, city staff members anticipate the need for additional administrative support and educational materials. Budget increases incurred by these additions would be subject to City Council approval.
Adoption of ranked-choice voting would eliminate primary elections when two or more candidates run for a seat on the council, resulting in cost savings. The savings depend on whether the seat is city-wide or represents a single ward.
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