The Minnetonka City Council on June 8 adopted an ordinance to amend the city charter requiring the use of ranked-choice voting for municipal elections and removes all references to primaries from the charter.

The Charter Commission has now been tasked with further study of the ranked-choice voting amendment, which begins the process under state law.

Ranked-choice voting eliminates the need for a primary because voters can rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate reaches a majority of the votes cast that candidate is the winner, but if they do not, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated and another round of counting takes place to divvy up the remaining votes based on their ranking until a majority is reached. Subsequent rounds can take place after the second round of tallying votes.

The commission needs at least 60 days, or until Aug. 7, to review a proposed amendment, though it could potentially take up to 150 days, or until Nov. 5, if more information is requested.

After the study is completed, the council will decide if, when and how to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide if they want the ranked-choice voting method. However, Aug. 10 is the last meeting in which the City Council could determine the ballot language for the November 2020 election.

The accelerated schedule – set off by the delay in charter commission meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions – has some council members concerned with the schedule being a burden on staff, particularly when they are working on the primary during a presidential election year.

“This is not an emergency ... yet we are treating it like one,” said Councilmember Rebecca Schack, adding that she respected her fellow council members and didn’t want to “stand in the way” of moving the process forward.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from a strong voice in the community and they deserve that process,” said Councilmember Bradley Schaeppi.

Councilmember Kissy Coakley agreed, saying she was for “letting residents decide what is best for our city.”

Ensuring residents are informed voters has been a concern expressed by Councilmember Deb Calvert as it relates to the accelerated schedule and circumstances surrounding the state of emergency still in effect.

“My concern is that when voters decide, that they’re deciding on the entire issue,” Calvert said, such as the potential taxation related to election costs.

“It’s a timing issue, not whether voters should decide,” she said.

Stating the schedule isn’t ideal, Mayor Brad Wiersum said the charter commission “has laid out a plan that will enable it to look at the pros and cons of ranked-choice voting and have a reasonable discussion and a reasonable debate on an accelerated basis.”

Wiersum said he supports bringing this issue to the voters in November “because it will more broadly reflect all the voters in Minnetonka,” because it is a presidential election, rather than waiting until next year’s special election.

Approximately 20 residents spoke on the matter during the public hearing. The vast majority spoke in support of the council moving forward with the process to allow ranked-choice voting to be on the ballot.

Resident Mark Francis said he opposes ranked-choice voting and that it could pose risks to elections, such as ballot exhaustion, which occurs when a ballot is no longer countable in a tally as all of the candidates marked on the ballot are no longer in the race.

He referenced a comment made by Jeanne Massey, FairVote Minnesota executive director, during the Jan. 28 charter commission meeting, in which Massey stated exhausted ballots account for about 10 % in smaller elections, with that number being slightly higher in competitive races, like a mayoral race.

Resident Sharon Grimes spoke in favor of ranked-choice voting, stating she has spoken with friends in other communities that have it and like it.

“I know one of the criticisms about it is that it’s going to be confusing [for seniors]. Well they are older than me and they weren’t confused, and they thought it was a great way to encourage more people to run for office and encourage more voters,” Grimes said.

After the unanimous vote of the council, the charter commission met June 9 and heard from election officials from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, St. Louis Park and Minnetonka.

The Commission will meet about five or six times through July, with the next meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23.

Charter Commission Chair John Northrup said this aggressive schedule is atypical and required the Commission to modify its bylaws for pre-meeting communication.

“The charter commission is doing their best efforts to work quickly on this project,” Northrup said. This includes gathering data and information that will be presented to the council in a written report.

“The commission’s highest priority is to provide a thorough and complete study to the council,” he said.

Having heard in January from FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit group that supports ranked-choice voting, the Commission will hear opposing viewpoints at its next meeting. They will also discuss a communication plan soliciting resident input during the pandemic.

About the Minnetonka Charter Commission

The mission of the Minnetonka Charter Commission is to oversee the city’s charter, which is the city’s constitution.

The Commission is an independent body that represents citizen viewpoints and considers and recommends appropriate revisions to the charter, balancing the best interests of city government and the citizens.

Currently, there are nine members appointed by the chief judge of the Hennepin County District Court. They are Northrup, Dick Allendor, Karen Anderson, John Cheleen, David Larson, Terry Schneider, Linnea Sodergren, LuAnn Tolliver and Brad Wiersum.

Meetings are available to watch live or on demand, with more details at minnetonkamn.gov.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@apgecm.com

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