They had an interesting election a few weeks ago in St. Paul. The trendy elite in the Twin Cities have adopted a ranked-choice voting system that allows voters to rank the candidates. That way, if their favorite candidate is an off-the-wall, extremist, uncompromising fascist or commie, they can still vote for that candidate and then have their vote count for somebody else who is a bit more mainstream.
The problem, as ranked-choice advocates see it, is that a vote for a third-party candidate is usually a wasted vote. Cast a vote for a Ross Perot or a Ralph Nader, or perhaps next fall a Ron Paul, and under the rules that have served this republic for more than two centuries, you’ve turned the election over to someone else. The Democrats and Republicans slug it out, producing the winner, and the also-rans provide a place for those who refuse to compromise on their beliefs.
In Minnesota, ranked-choice voting has gained more favor, and even become law in Minneapolis and St. Paul city elections. Why? I’m guessing one reason might be the persistent survival of the Independence Party (IP). In 1998, Jesse Ventura jumped off a turnbuckle, was struck by lightning, and got himself elected governor. A member of the Independence Party, he helped it become a “major” party, which in Minnesota is defined as any party with a statewide candidate who garners more than 5 percent of the vote.
Since then, the IP has held onto its “major” party status by putting up centrist candidates in hopes that eventually the majority of voters will become fed up with the partisans favored by the two major parties.. While IP lightning has yet to strike twice, the party continues to garner more than 5 percent in every election.
It remains a thorn in the hides of the DFL and GOP because the IP candidates usually have roots in one party or the other. In 2002, for example, former DFL Congressman Tim Penny was the IP gubernatorial candidate. The result? Republican Tim Pawlenty beat DFL candidate Roger Moe. In 2010, the IP put up long-time Republican activist Tom Horner for governor. The result? DFLer Mark Dayton defeated the GOP’s Tom Emmer.
Many Democrats and Republicans believe that Penny and Horner pulled most of their votes from their DFL or GOP roots, thus costing their former parties those elections.
With ranked-choice voting, the candidates that are the first choice of the fewest voters get eliminated first, but then those ballots are re-run through the tabulator to give those voters’ votes to their second choice. The process is repeated until one candidate gets 50 percent of the votes cast.
In St. Paul, Dave Thune won re-election to a City Council seat. He would have won under the traditional way of voting, just as he won under ranked-choice voting, but he didn’t have a majority at first.
However, it took three rounds, and Jim Ivey, the Green Party candidate who ranked second after the first round, ended up further down the list, as Bill Hosko proved to be second choice of most of the voters who got the do-over vote.
In a state where the last two state elections proved that casting a simple vote is a challenge for some citizens, and judges have been empowered to determine those voters’ intent, it would seem that ranked-choice voting is just asking for trouble. However, none of the candidates — five were on the ballot — screamed “foul.”
The concern with ranked-choice voting is elsewhere: whether or not it is more likely to bring us together as a people or if it will drive us apart.
Democrats and Republicans may not talk much to each other, but they engage in parallel discussions about their candidates, particularly for the higher offices, weighing the possibilities of nominating the candidate with whom they most agree vs. nominating one who can be elected. Most of them compromise at some point, if not on their beliefs, then on their priorities. It’s a balancing act.
And each person handles it in his or her own way. Some people adopt a “my way or the highway” stance. They usually don’t last long in major party politics. Some even move on to the third parties, the Green Party for environmentalists, the Libertarians, the Socialist Workers, etc.
Therein lies the problem. Should the uncompromising “my way or the highway” types be given the opportunity to express that feeling, but then, after that position is rejected, to in effect re-vote for a presumably more electable second choice?
To me, ranked-choice voting will encourage the balkanization of American politics. For years, Italy, now on the verge of bankruptcy, has been an ungovernable mess with 20 or more parties trying to form governing coalitions. I would not want to follow in Italy’s political footsteps.
Today, many Americans are complaining that the Democrats and Republicans are refusing to compromise with each other. Why then, would those complainers want to give greater voice to those citizens who least want to compromise — those who can’t even get along with the Democrats or the Republicans?
Under the Constitution, each of us is given one vote. Even though a half to a third of us don’t even bother, those votes are all that stand between us and anarchy or tyranny. One vote may not seem like much, but it provides a gentle nudge in the direction one wants the government to go.
The two-party system evolved over time, giving all but the uncompromising a place to cast a vote that may make a difference. We tinker with that at our peril.
Tom West is the general manager of the Dairyland Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at [email protected]