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IT'S OUR TURN: Consider ranked-choice voting system

When Minnesota's 2017-18 legislative session ended on May 20, one thing that ended with it was the latest go-around of an effort to ban ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Left on the table were House File 3690 and Senate File 3325. They would have prohibited political entities in Minnesota from using RCV. May they rest in pieces.

Currently, only municipal elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul have RCV. This contrasts with the conventional "one candidate, one vote" system, also known as "first past the post" voting (FPP). Those cities have RCV only thanks to direct referendums. A few other cities have considered it, and some have voted it down.

What is RCV? It's basically a ballot that allows you to pick your first, second, and third choice.

Say there are five candidates for a seat on the city council, and none of them wins a majority of the first-choice votes. So, the fifth-place guy is knocked out, and his votes are redistributed to the second choices of all his voters. If none of the remaining four candidates breaks 50 percent, the process is repeated until there's a clear winner.

RCV is an idea that could eliminate party primaries. It pulls votes together toward the candidate most people can live with. It gives candidates an incentive to engage in civil and reasonable debate, and penalizes the person who pillories their opponents.

It's not surprising when you think about it, but the bills to ban RCV in Minnesota were supported, at least initially, by Legislators from both the Republican and DFL parties. The two parties' entrenched position in our current political system is one of the things threatened by RCV concept.

In March, State Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch) told Reuters that he equates "Every vote should count" with "I picked my top candidate." State Rep. Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn Park) said election systems should be the same across the state.

Both Koran and Nelson may have their finger on a corner of the truth, but maybe it's turned the wrong way. A lot of us haven't felt the "my vote counts" feeling for a long time. Keeping the system the same statewide is fine, if it's the right system.

I don't think RCV would be a threat to that duopoly if it weren't so clear to so many of us that change is needed. One lesson voters on both sides of the blue/red spectrum can learn from 2016 is how discouraging it is to have two choices that are only really wanted by a few people at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

In effect, the choices for many of us were (1) to hold our nose and "vote strategically" for the "lesser of two evils;" (2) to throw our vote away on a minor-party candidate we really liked, but who didn't stand a chance; or (3) not voting at all, like 42 percent of eligible voters.

Seeing the game rigged for candidates most voters oppose is a poor incentive for them to perform their duty, to exercise their right. The viciousness of today's political campaigns becomes another argument against soiling one's fingers with a ballot.

In a country almost evenly divided from left to right, the FPP system increases the likelihood that everyone's choice will be narrowed to two candidates most voters would prefer to vote against. The deeper the division grows, the stronger this effect becomes.

The worst candidate wins when the reasonable majority of people split their votes between several good candidates, any of whom they would have supported if they didn't have to choose just one.

Where the RCV system would pull their votes together, FPP splinters them apart and allows a single, off-center candidate with a devoted following to knock them out of the race. A minority wins. The majority suffers.

You've seen this happen. You're seeing the results now. I, for one, voted in 2016 for someone I didn't want to be president, because I didn't want the alternative even harder. I voted for the loser, and now he's president. Am I happy with this? Are you?

What happens as a result? The reasonable middle gets left out of the debate. Across the widening gulf between the two ruling parties, only the loudest and coarsest voices are heard. Add the growing harshness of discourse on today's social media, and the body politic is wired to explode.

Could RCV snip the wires? I don't know. The discussion should be heard, though. RCV is a daring idea that would be interesting to consider. Taking away the option to discuss or consider it will not encourage local control or political change.

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