here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this interview.
Carl (Buzz) Cummins III,
Jeanne Massey, executive director, FairVote
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Paul Gilje, Dwight
Dan Loritz (phone), and Jim Olson (phone)
Welcome and introductions:
and Paul welcomed and introduced Carl (Buzz) Cummins
chair, FairVote Minnesota, and Jeanne Massey, executive director,
an organization promoting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)
Cummins is the
President And Chief Executive Officer of the Workers Compensation
Reinsurance Association. He has practiced law, served as legal counsel to
Governor Al Quie and was responsible for government, regulatory and
community affairs at Minnegasco. Cummins has served as Chair of the
Citizens League, United Hospital, the Higher Education Coordinating Board,
and numerous other non-profit and community boards. He currently serves on
the board of the Coalition for Impartial Justice, which supports adoption
of a system of judicial retention elections in Minnesota.
led the successful
referendum campaign for RCV in 2007 as a volunteer for FairVote Minnesota.
She served ten years as the director of Bloomington-based South Hennepin
Regional Planning Agency. She holds a master's degree in Regional and
Community Planning from Iowa State University and a bachelor's degree in
Business and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa. Following
undergraduate studies, she served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. She
is active in her community and has served on several community and
nonprofit boards, including the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, the
I-35W Access Project Advisory Committee and the Resource Center of the
Comments and discussion--DuringMassey's
and Cummins' comments and in the ensuing discussion the following points
is a way to assure majority support for the winning candidate in a single
seat election (e.g. governor, mayor, etc.), regardless of the number of
candidates for a given office. RCV, also known as Ranked Voting or Instant
Run-off Voting, differs in key respects from the traditional form of
voting in Minnesota state and local elections. In the traditional form,
voters cast one vote for each office and the winner is the candidate
receiving the most votes, irrespective of whether the winner has a
plurality or a majority.
contrast, with RCV a winning candidate ultimately will emerge with
majority support. In the polling booth voters are asked to rank candidates
for each office in order of preference, first choice, second choice, third
choice, and so forth. If they prefer, voters may identify only their first
choice, which is just like the traditional system. But if exercised, their
other preferences can become very important in the outcome of the race.
two candidates are in the race, additional choices are moot, because a
winner will have received a majority of votes cast.
than two candidates are in the race, and one of them receives a majority
of first choices, that candidate is the winner, just as he or she would
have been in the traditional form of voting.
when there are three or more candidates, if no candidate receives a
majority of first choices, then the RCV mechanism kicks in:
After first choices have been counted,
the candidate with the fewest first choices is dropped from
The ballots showing a first choice for
that dropped candidate are then reassigned to the remaining candidates
based on those voters' second choices.
If a candidate has a majority when those
second choice ballots added in, that candidate is declared the winner.
If not, the process continues until a
majority winner emerges or until two candidates remain and the candidate
with the most votes wins.
FairVote Minnesota website offers an example of how votes are tallied:
adopted in some municipal elections in Minnesota.
was first adopted in
Minneapolis voters in 2006 and implemented for the first time in city
elections in 2009. The next Minneapolis city elections will be in 2013.
voters approved RCV--officially called Ranked Voting in that city---in
2009, and the system is being implemented for the first time in the coming
In three of the seven council races, there will be more than two
candidates on the ballot and voters will have the opportunity to rank
their preferences. Since RCV had been adopted,
did not hold a city primary election this year; the RCV process
essentially eliminates the need for a primary in a local nonpartisan race.
Massey said Red Wing is scheduled to hold a referendum on RCV in
2012. RCV also is under consideration in
and Bloomington, she said.
3. RCV used in other locations.--
Massey saidRCV is also
used in San
Oakland, San Leandro, and Berkeley, CA; Takoma Park, MD; and
Hendersonville, NC. Cambridge, MA, Portland, ME and Telluride, CO, join
St. Paul in using RCV for the first time this year.
TE, and other cities are slated to implement in the near future. It's used
in other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Northern
Ireland, Scotland and London. In Ireland's 1990 three-way presidential
race, the ultimate winner, Mary Robinson, would have come in second, had
it not been for RCV, Massey said. Responding to a question, Massey said
RCV was repealed in Burlington, VT, in 2010, five years after it had been
enacted. For a list of RCV locations see:
4. Reasons in favor of RCV--
Massey and Cummins
listed these reasons favoring RCV:
a. Assures that winning candidates receive a majority
vote in single-seat races--Too
often now, they said, candidates are elected with a plurality, not a
majority, of votes. The FairVote website lists 42 state and federal races
in Minnesota that have been decided by less than a majority vote since
1988. RCV offers greater confidence among voters in the election system,
b. Gives a voter the opportunity to support a candidate
without fear of "wasting" the vote--When
three candidates are vying for a major officeit's not unusual, without RCV,
for voters to fear they are wasting their ballot by voting for a
third-party candidate who is less likely to win. This concern reduces the
support such a candidate otherwise would receive, Cummins said. In last
November's race for Governor, he pointed out, the third-party candidate
had more support than the actual vote revealed. With RCV the voter's first
choice never is wasted, regardless of the number of candidates, because
second and third choices could be decisive in the outcome, he said.
c. Stimulates candidates and political parties to
appeal to broader constituencies--In
the traditional voting process with multiple candidates for office it is
possible for a candidate to appeal to a narrow constituency and still have
a chance to win, because only plurality support, not majority, would be
necessary. Under RCV a candidate needs to attract a majority, meaning that
the candidate might find it essential to take positions that appeal to a
broader group, Massey and Cummins said. They also noted that candidates
might be less inclined to speak negatively about opponents, knowing that
they might need the second- or even third-choice votes from supporters of
the opponents. Political parties, too, might find it valuable to adopt
broader platforms and to endorse candidates supporting such platforms,
they said. It has not been unusual in competitive multi-candidates races
in RCV cities (e.g., San Francisco and Oakland, CA) for candidates to
broaden their base of voters, openly seeking second choice votes from
constituents they might otherwise have ignored.
d. Ends the need for primary elections in non-partisan
RCV, in races without party designation, which is standard for non-state
elections in Minnesota, no primary election is needed, Massey and Cummins
said. This saves taxpayers the expense of the primary election. Also, they
added, primary elections usually attract very few voters, meaning that
only a small percentage of the electorate participates in selecting the
top two candidates. For example, voter turnout was about 5 percent in the
most recent primary elections in Bloomington and St. Louis Park, Massey
said. This low rate of turnout is not uncommon in local primaries.
e. Could reduce negative media advertising--Cummins
suggested that campaign committees, needing to obtain broader support,
might no longer resort to 30-second sound bites or other devices to
discredit opposing candidates.
5. Concerns about RCV--In
discussion with Civic Caucus members the following concerns about RCV
a. Might RCV weaken the two-party system? --A
participant expressed concern that RCV could strengthen 3rd, 4th, and 5th
political parties, leading to the kind of coalition-forming governments
that are widespread in Europe. The participant suggested that the effect
would be to weaken the Democratic and Republican parties at a time when
they need strengthening. Cummins contended that RCV might have the
opposite effect: strengthening the two top parties. Both parties today
seem to attract more support from the extreme ends of the political
spectrum. With RCV they'd find a need to find membership from broader
segments of the population.
b. Might the process be confusing? --People
are long accustomed to entering a voting booth and casting one vote for
each office, a participant said. Might it be confusing when voters now are
asked to vote for their second and third choices, and maybe more? Massey
replied that a poll of
after RCV was first used in 2009 revealed that 95 percent thought the
system was easy to use. Transitions to RCV have gone smoothly across the
c. Doesn't the process give some voters, in effect, a
second vote? --It
appears that the people who choose to vote for the weaker candidates have
greater influence over the outcome, because their second and third
preferences are the votes that produce the necessary majority for the
winner, a participant said. Every voter is treated the same, Massey said.
All voters are able to list all candidates in order of preference. RCV
works like a two-round runoff. Any voter's second, third and other choices
come into play only when that voter's first choice candidate is
eliminated. In a single seat election, the candidate with a majority of
support wins. In contrast, the current effect of minor-party candidates
can be to "spoil" the election for the majority preferred candidate.
d. Can resistance of political party insiders be
participant noted that many political leaders, regardless of party, seem
to be either unenthusiastic or opposed to RCV. These leaders have become
accustomed to working within the traditional voting system and probably
fear the uncertainty that would come with a change in the system. Cummins
responded that RCV already has strong cross partisan support in
including the official support of the DFL,
and Green Parties. Because of the political dysfunction
Minnesota faces, the
issue has gained support and momentum, he said.
e. Does RCV work in at-large races where more than one
candidate will be elected? --Some
persons find it difficult to understand how the RCV approach would work in
at-large races, where more than one candidate will be elected. Massey said
the process is fully workable. With only one person to be elected to the
office, the threshold is 50 percent plus one. With two to be elected
at-large, the threshold is 33 1/3 percent plus one; with three to be
elected at-large, the threshold is 25 percent plus one. The process of
ranking in at large-elections is no different to the voters. The
difference from winner-take-all, single-seat RCV elections is that more
candidates are elected in multi-seat RCV elections.
6. Potential broader use of RCV in Minnesota--Currently,
without changes in state law, only cities with home rule charters can
modify their voting systems to permit use of RCV, and then only in city
elections, not for school, county, or state elections, Massey said.
Legislation has been introduced by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) and Sen.
Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), which would allow any local jurisdiction (cities,
school boards, counties and townships) to use RCV if it wanted to do so,
provides RCV guidelines, and sets RCV-capable equipment standards for the
next generation of voting machines purchased in Minnesota.
7. Appropriate for state primaries? --Responding
to an observation by a participant, Massey agreed that RCV could be
particularly appropriate for contested state primary elections, in which
candidates are competing only within their respective political parties,
not across parties.
8. Appropriate for precinct caucuses?
the discussion about potential intra-party use of RCV, Massey agreed with
a participant that precinct caucuses could use RCV for their nominating
processes right now, without change in state law. The IP, GP and DFL party
use RCV for some or all of their endorsing conventions, she said.
9. Top 2 Primary an alternative? --Massey
and Cummins were asked about the potential of a change similar to that
recently adopted in California, in which the top two vote getters in the
primary election-regardless of party affiliation-advance to the general
election. They said such a step is no substitute for RCV. These primaries
turn out a much smaller share of voters than the general election and weed
out all the candidates but the top two ahead of the November election. In
such a primary, candidates receiving only a small proportion of votes cast
could still advance to the general election. It is this type of system
used locally in Minnesota that is being replaced by RCV.
10. Question of impact on campaign finance--The
discussion touched briefly on whether RCV would reduce the likelihood that
interest groups would continue to invest heavily in any one candidate.
Massey pointed to the mayoral election in Oakland last year, in which the
winner, Jean Quan, won despite being outspent 5-1 by her rival. She said
RCV can diffuse the impact of money in campaigns.
11. How FairVote
Minnesota is organized--Following
initial discussions late in 1996, a group of 20 individuals formed
FairVote Minnesota to seek changes in voting structures to improve the
quality of democracy. Its board of directors, staff, and advisory council,
along with its history may be found at:
12. Results of St. Cloud University RCV poll
in the 2010 governor's race --Massey
said that a St. Cloud University poll was conducted last fall to see,
hypothetically, how a three-way Governor's race would be affected, if at
all, if voters' second choices were allocated according to the RCV
process. The poll showed that Mark Dayton, with a plurality lead in the
poll, kept the lead even when second choices were allocated. See:
13. Is today's political environment
particularly conducive to considering RCV? --Massey
said that the interest in reform, from across the political spectrum, is
stronger than ever. Recently, FairVote
Minnesota was at the
state fair and was very encouraged by the number of persons coming by the
FairVote state fair booth. Some 1,700 persons said they wanted to support
the RCV effort. Extensive citizen dissatisfaction with and cynicism about
the political process is evident today, Massey suggested. A member noted
that pending legislative redistricting and new elections for all state
legislators in 2012 could help create an atmosphere receptive to a
different system of voting or at least the possibility of using RCV in
precinct caucuses and political conventions.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Massey and Cummins for meeting
with us today.