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Bloomington and Minnetonka voters approve ranked-choice voting

David Chanen :: Star Tribune

Bloomington and Minnetonka joined a small circle of Minnesota cities this week when voters approved a change to ranked-choice voting, a method that eliminates primary elections.

Nearly 55% of Minnetonka voters approved ranked-choice voting for mayor and City Council positions, while Bloomington voters passed the measure by 2 percentage points. Charter commissions in both cities had rejected proposed ranked-choice amendments, but their respective city councils placed them on the ballot.

"The Minnetonka City Council felt that voters should make this important decision in the high turnout 2020 election. It is my expectation that this transition will go smoothly," said Minnetonka Mayor Brad Wiersum.

"Voter education is an essential part of the process. City staff is prepared to inform our community about how to use this new voting system successfully."

Though the margin for ranked-choice voting was narrower in Bloomington, Mayor Tim Busse said the goal all along was to let voters have their say on the issue.

"It looks like our turnout this week was more than 85%, so even though the margin was slim, the move to ranked-choice voting was chosen by the people," Busse said.

Minneapolis and St. Paul have used ranked-choice voting for about a decade, and St. Louis Park implemented it last year. The idea behind it is to eliminate costly primary elections and allow all candidates to run in the general election, when turnout typically is higher and more representative of diverse communities.

But in Minneapolis' last mayoral election in 2017, voter turnout was only 43%. The winner in that 16-candidate race was Jacob Frey, who prevailed after five rounds of counting that extended beyond Election Day.

St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano said he would like to see ranked-choice voting drive up turnout, but last year only 20% of the city's voters cast ballots in one City Council race.

"In my experience, what drives voter turnout is the candidates," he said.

In a ranked-choice voting system, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. A candidate is declared the winner if they win more than 50% of first-preference votes; if no one reaches that mark, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and their second-preference votes are awarded to the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until someone gets a majority.

Spano said ranked-choice voting is a great experiment but that it will take about 10 years' worth of elections to see the impact.

"Folks claim it is a cure-all for all ills, and some say it is the end of democracy," he said. "Neither is true."

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