Hard Fought Battle Achieves Election Reform, Instant Runoff Voting

Press Release:

FairVote Minnesota Applauds Supreme Court Decision on Ranked Choice Voting

MINNEAPOLIS –– Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, applauded the Minnesota Supreme Court decision handed down today that upholds the constitutionality of Minneapolis’ ranked choice voting (RCV) law.

“Today, in a unanimous opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court blazed a path that every community in our state can follow toward better elections and a stronger democracy,” Massey said. “The Court’s decision is a resounding endorsement of ranked choice voting. It gives a bright, green light for Minneapolis to implement RCV for this year’s elections and for other communities around the state – Saint Paul, Duluth and others – to move ahead as well.”

In its ruling, the Court explained that the RCV system satisfies constitutional requirements because all votes are treated equally: “[e]very voter has the same opportunity to rank candidates when she casts her ballot, and in each round every voter’s vote carries the same value.” The Court also found that there was “no indication, much less proof” that RCV would impose a burden on the right to vote. Finally, Chief Justice Magnuson stressed in the opinion, “[t]he voters of Minneapolis chose to adopt the IRV method.” Under these circumstances, the Court held that it would not interfere with that choice.

It is expected that today’s ruling will set the stage for other communities to move ahead on RCV initiatives. The Saint Paul City Council, for example, voted in 2008 to uphold a citizen’s petition to place RCV on the ballot in 2009 upon resolution of the law suit in Minneapolis. In Duluth, there is a strong and active citizen’s effort to put RCV on the ballot for municipal elections next year.

FairVote Minnesota attorneys James Dorsey and Nicole Moen praised the Court’s decision: “The Court carefully examined each of the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments and rejected all of them. The Court also noted that RCV promotes many legitimate state interests, such as increasing voter turn-out and decreasing election costs.”

Dorsey and Moen also dismissed the impact of the plaintiffs’ intention to appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court: “The Minneapolis City Attorney has already determined that a ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court requires the city to implement RCV for this election cycle. The Court’s decision rests on a thoughtful and solid analysis of Minnesota and United States Supreme Court precedent. If the plaintiffs pursue their claims in federal court, the outcome will likely be the same.”

Today’s decision is consistent with the outcomes of similar cases in other states, most notably Johnson v City of New York (1937) Moore v Election Commissioners of Cambridge (1941) and Stephenson v Ann Arbor Bd. of Canvassers (1975). In each case, RCV was upheld under the state constitution and/or election laws.

In 2006, Minneapolis voters approved the use of RCV by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 65 percent to 35 percent. The case, Minnesota Voters Alliance v City of Minneapolis (27-cv-08-15), was filed in December 2007 to challenge implementation of the voting method, but was rejected last January by Hennepin County District Judge George McGunnigle.

RCV is a tested, accepted and implementable system by which voters rank candidates in order of preference, ensuring majority winners in single-winner races where there are more than two candidates on the ballot. Under RCV, voters cast their vote for their favorite candidate knowing that if he or she doesn’t gather enough votes to be one of the top two finishers, their votes will count toward their second choice. Votes cast for the least popular candidate are not “wasted”, but rather redistributed to more popular candidates, based on the voters’ second choices, until one candidate emerges with a majority of votes. In multi-winner elections, like the Minneapolis Park Board RCV ensures majority rule while empowering small groups of voters with greater opportunity to elect a candidate that represents them.

RCV is already in use in more than a half a dozen jurisdictions around the United States and in democracies such as Ireland and Australia.

Eight jurisdictions in six states – California, North Carolina, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado and Washington – currently use RCV voting methods without legal challenge. Nearly a dozen other cities are slated to use RCV in the near future; nowhere has RCV been legally challenged.

FairVote Minnesota was founded in 1996 to work for better democracy through public education and advocating progressive voting systems that lead to greater competitiveness, better representation and more participation.

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