Minneapolis Mayoral Race Venn Diagram
by Tony Petrangelo
Oct 22, 2013, 8:00 AM

Ranked Choice Voting Question Time: 35 Candidates and Vote Ranking

This post is part of an ongoing series of posts in which I attempt, however feebly, to answer questions about this newfangled (not really) thing called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), or Instant-Runoff Voting, or as one candidate for Minneapolis Mayor pleads in his party affiliation “Count All Rankings.”

The first post of the series concerned the claim that the winner of an RCV election will always win with a majority and whether that is really the case (it’s not). There was then a post dealing with responses to that post, and a following post dealing with the responses to the first response post.

With all of that out of the way, let’s move on to the next part of this series on RCV, the insane number of candidates who will be appearing on the Minneapolis Mayoral ballot, a sample of which can be found here, and the Ranking of Votes, do’s and don’ts.

Thirty-five candidates for mayor is nuts. Are there any ideas floating around for how to reduce the number of candidates for a non-partisan race like the Minneapolis mayoral race without unnecessarily stifling the democratic process?

There are many things that can be done and in fact the primary reason for there being 35 candidates in the race has little to do with RCV, but rather the absurdly low barrier to entry. All anyone needed to do was hand over $20 in order to appear as a candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis on the ballot. The simplest thing to do is raise the bar for entry.

I would be in favor of doing two things; increasing the cost of entry and adding a signature component. In order to appear as a candidate on the ballot for Mayor you would have to pay X amount of money, where X is greater than $20 and gather Y number of signatures. The amount of money doesn’t have to be much, but I think something in the $200 range makes a lot more sense than $20. If you’re going to run a credible campaign for Mayor of Minneapolis, you can afford to pay $200 for the filing fee. Likewise, if you are going to run a credible campaign for Mayor of Minneapolis you should be able to gather a certain number of signatures.

But again, the fact that there are 35 candidates in the race is not a problem with RCV itself, it’s a problem with the Minneapolis implementation of RCV. The upside is that it’s a fixable problem.

Having this many candidates in the race, more specifically having this many DFLers in the race, will have an impact on how an RCV election plays out though. I think the largest impact is that it mostly blunts the talking point that Ranked Choice Voting will help third party candidates. In a one party town like Minneapolis and with ten candidates who will appear on the ballot on the DFL party line, it seems likely that many ballots, probably a majority, will have DFLers ranked in all three positions.

This saturation of the field by DFLers essentially nullifies any shot that a third party candidate might have. Again, this isn’t really the fault of RCV, but rather this particular implementation of it.

Ranked Choice Voting is like cumulative voting for a board of directors in a company, right? I mean, if somebody votes for the same person three times, won’t that increase the chance that the person will win? What happens to the ballot if somebody does that?

No, this is not how it works. In fact, if you look at the sample ballot the second choice column title includes the phrase “Must be DIFFERENT from your 1st choice,” while the third place column title includes the phrase “Must be DIFFERENT from your 1st and 2nd choices.”

You see, not only did they include wording to let you know to vote for someone you have not yet voted for, they also used ALL CAPS, to emphasize a particular aspect of the phrase that they wanted to draw your attention to, in this case the word DIFFERENT. If a person were to ignore these very helpful directions and instead vote for their first choice candidate for their second choice and their third choice as well, this wouldn’t do any good.

The thing with Ranked Choice Voting is that your second choice is only counted after your first choice has been eliminated. If you vote for the same person for your second choice, well, that person has already been eliminated by then, so it will go to your third choice who would also have already been eliminated.

By choosing the same person first, second and third you’re not cheating the system, you’re cheating yourself of your second and third place votes.

I believe the way it is structured, the people who chose the least popular candidates have more impact on this election than those who vote for mathematically possible winners. If someone votes for Micky Mouse and Micky has one vote, the other choices are applied first to other candidates. If my first choice is the the second most popular candidate, then it is possible that my second choice is never applied. So let’s say it’s Andrew and Hodges for the last round of RCV and both have 2nd choice votes for each other, those would be the last transferred votes and might not be counted.

I don’t think that’s quite the case. You’re right that the people who vote for the least popular candidates with their first and second choices will have more of their preferences heard, but they had no more impact on the race then you did by voting for the second most popular candidate first.

Look at it this way, if you vote for the second most popular candidate with your first choice then your ballot will be in the count for every single round of counting. If however, you were to vote for nothing but the least popular candidates, you would have had more of your preferences heard, but your ballot will not be around in the counting for long because all of your candidates will have gotten eliminated early on.

So what if someone votes for less popular candidates first and second and on their third choice votes for the second most popular candidate just like you did for your first choice. Does that person now have more of a say in the election then you do? I would still argue no. Again, they had all of their preferences heard, while you only had your first preference heard, but what’s more important to you, that your first choice wins, or that you have all of your preferences heard?

I would much rather vote for a candidate first because that was the candidate I most wanted to win and have that candidate actually win, as opposed to having my third choice win and in the process have all of my rankings counted.

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.