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Opinion: Ranked-choice voting has not worked out

The turnout in the 2009 Minneapolis ranked-choice voting (RCV) election was an abysmal 19.64 percent, not much better than the turnout in this year's Duluth primary that sent RCV supporters into gleeful calls for elimination of the primaries. Where were the calls to get rid of RCV in Minneapolis after a similar result? In fact, the turnout was reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to have been the lowest since 1902. But supporters claim that RCV increases turnout. The subsequent 2013 Minneapolis turnout was 10,000 voters less than that of the election of 2001. To top it off, the 2013 Minneapolis election went more than $400,000 over the approved budget.

Almost all of the discussion of RCV in Duluth has focused on the instant-runoff method proposed for our mayoral and council district elections, and very little has been said about the method proposed for our at-large council elections. Several RCV supporters, including Rep. Erik Simonson in his Duluth News Tribune Local View of Oct. 4, claim that in such elections the two winners are guaranteed to receive two-thirds of the vote. This is a false claim. As an example, let's look at how Minneapolis elected David Wheeler to the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation in 2009 with 25.27 percent of the total votes.

In RCV, each voter ranks up to three candidates, with the first vote going to their top-ranked choice. If two are to be elected, any candidate who receives more than one-third of the votes is elected; if two candidates achieve this, the election is over. If one or no candidate is elected, vote redistribution begins in a second round. In Wheeler's case, he didn't attain one-third of the votes, but the incumbent received 52.13 percent and was elected. The 19 percent excess was taken from her and given to other candidates by transferring about 0.36 of their vote to their second-ranked candidate. This redistribution brought Wheeler and others still short of the one-third threshold.

On the third round, the candidate with the fewest votes was eliminated, and these votes were transferred to the voters' second preference, unless that second preference was the incumbent, who already had too many votes, and then the votes would go to their third preference. This continued until the fifth round, at which time Wheeler had not reached the one-third threshold (10,696 votes), but as the second-ranking candidate who could not be caught by the others he was declared a winner with 8107.4270 votes. Since the incumbent was left with one-third of the votes, the two winners did not receive two-thirds.

It seems to me that this procedure is certainly not transparent. In fact, during the Oct. 20 debate on RCV sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and the Chamber of Commerce, David Wheeler, the pro-RCV debater, gave the impression that he didn't understand the method of counting the votes in this "single transferable vote" (RCV) procedure that elected him twice in Minneapolis.

I urge Duluthians to keep voting simple by voting no on the cumbersome and unnecessary RCV on Nov. 3.

The writer is a professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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