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Minneapolis' instant-runoff voting plan may be unconstitutional

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  • Tom Ruen
    I saw a Strib article today, questioning constitutionality of IRV, pasted at the bottom. I also looked up and found Tony Solgård and Paul Landskroener s
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 20, 2007
      I saw a Strib article today, questioning constitutionality of IRV, pasted at the bottom.
      I also looked up and found Tony Solgård and Paul Landskroener's article below from 2002 discusses the Duluth "Bucklin" system whic was rejected.
      Ranking isn't the issue that rejected the Duluth system, so it is surprising to me that "IRV" would be questioned, the "single winner" aspect at least.
      I guess it is better sooner-than-later to get challenges in the courts, and WHEN IRV passes the threats, it'll have a legal basis against future challenges.
      -Tom Ruen

      http://www2.mnbar.org/benchandbar/2002/oct02/voting.htm Municipal Voting System Reform: Overcoming the Legal Obstacles  An alternative approach to voting in municipal elections must surmount some legal  hurdles to gain acceptance, but promises results that would better reflect voter choices  than the current system. By Tony Anderson Solgård and Paul Landskroener
      Constitutional Challenge. In Minneapolis, advocates of a 2001 charter amendment to adopt Single Transferable Vote for municipal elections ran into opposition from the city's charter commission. The commission's attorney brought a 1915 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Smallwood 7, to the body's attention. Several commission members cited this case as a basis for the body's recommendation against putting the proposed charter amendment question before the city's voters.
      Brown v. Smallwood involved a preferential voting system adopted by the city of Duluth in its 1912 charter and a municipal judgeship created by the Legislature in 1913. 8 The Duluth system asked voters to rank the candidates according to their preferences, but did not use the Single Transferable Vote method to count votes and determine the winner. Instead, a vote-counting procedure known as "the Bucklin method" was used.9
      These flaws of the Bucklin plan -not present in Single Transferable Vote -- led the Minnesota Supreme Court to declare the Bucklin system unconstitutional. The Court first noted that the Minnesota Constitution provided that every male age 21 or older was "entitled to vote" in elections. The Court then said that, when the Minnesota Constitution was framed,

      the word "vote" meant a choice for a candidate by one constitutionally qualified to exercise a choice. ... It was never meant that the ballot of one elector, cast for one candidate, could be of greater or less effect than the ballot of another elector cast for another candidate. It was to be of the same effect.11

      Guided by this definition of "vote," the Court concluded that Duluth's Bucklin voting system had the effect of giving more than one vote to some voters and was thus unconstitutional. The Court was particularly troubled by how the Bucklin system put voters in a position of undermining the prospects of their first choices when they indicated lower preferences:

      The preferential system directly diminishes the right of an elector to give an effective vote for the candidate of his choice. If he votes for him once, his power to help him is exhausted. If he votes for other candidates he may harm his choice, but cannot help him.12


      Minneapolis' instant-runoff voting plan may be unconstitutional

      Debate rages over whether a 1915 Duluth precedent poses constitutional issues for the method passed by Minneapolis voters.

      By Steve Brandt, Star Tribune

      Last update: September 19, 2007 – 11:21 PM

      Minneapolis voters have approved a plan for instant-runoff voting, but the state constitution may not allow it, according to a new attorney general's opinion.

      The opinion, obtained by the Star Tribune, doesn't explicitly say the Minneapolis system of ranking candidates in order of preference is unconstitutional.

      But it concludes that if the closest case to a precedent is followed, instant-runoff voting probably isn't permitted by the state constitution.

      The voting method requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gains a majority, the lowest candidate is dropped and the second-place votes cast by supporters of that candidate are added to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gains a majority.

      Minneapolis voters approved the change in 2005, and city officials have been trying to institute it for the 2009 city election.

      The new opinion fans a debate that had already been raging between supporters and opponents of instant runoff.

      Opponents have threatened a legal challenge, citing a 1915 Minnesota Supreme Court case that struck down a Duluth system that also ranked voters.

      Minneapolis, Duluth differences

      But supporters, such as Roseville lawyer Bruce Kennedy, say there are important distinctions between the Minneapolis approach and the Duluth method struck down by the court.

      In Minneapolis, when the first-place votes of those supporting the lowest-ranking candidate are eliminated, they are replaced one-for-one by their second-choice votes. In Duluth, the second-choice votes were added to the first-choice votes.

      The latter approach effectively gave some voters more weight than others, the court said in finding the Duluth provision unconstitutional.

      Andrew Cilek, an opponent trying to challenge the Minneapolis system, called the opinion "interesting. We feel the same way."

      The attorney general's opinion also finds statutory issues with instant-runoff voting.

      It said that although cities with their own charters such as Minneapolis have substantial authority, other law preempts local charter power when it comes to general elections.

      'Interested in what the courts say'

      It also suggests that the secretary of state's office needs to adopt rules to permit experimental use of instant runoff.

      Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the attorney general's response went beyond the questions he posed about procedures for instant runoff. "I'm interested in what the courts say," he said in reaction to the constitutional warning.

      In Minneapolis, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden chairs the council's Election Committee. "We recognize that there is not perfect clarity on this issue," she said. "We think that the body of existing law will support our decision to use ranked-choice voting."

      Meanwhile, a group of state and local election officials working to install instant-runoff voting plans to meet again in January to consider changes to be sought in the 2008 Legislature.

      Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

      Steve Brandt • sbrandt@...

      © 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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