Duluth citizens go to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect city council members and a new mayor. But the hottest race isn’t over a political office. It’s over how future city elections should take place. Duluth voters will decide whether to follow in the footsteps of Minneapolis and St. Paul and adopt ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting lets citizens choose up to three candidates and rank them first, second and third among all the candidates in an election.
Is it time, at long last, for the citizens of the United States to enjoy the constitutional right to vote for the people who govern them? Phrased in that way, the question may come as a shock. The U.S. has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan justified, at least in rhetoric, by the claim that people deserve the right to vote for their leaders. Most of us assume that the right to vote has long been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Not according to the Supreme Court. In Bush v. Gore (2000), the Court ruled that “[t]he individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.” That’s right. Under federal law, according to the Supreme Court, if you are a citizen of the United States, you have a right to own a firearm that might conceivably be used in overthrowing the government. But you have no right to wield a vote that might be used to change the government by peaceful means.
For some time now, we have known that presidential candidates focus their attention and energy on swing states. They do this because under the winner-take-all method of allocating Electoral College votes, the only states that matter are the ones that could go for either the Democrat or the Republican, while the ones that are squarely for one party or the other do not matter. For example, in 2012, the presidential candidates focused on only ten states. Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire were the only states in which Barack Obama and Mitt Romney held public campaign events after the Democratic National Convention, and those same ten states received 99.6% of all the Obama and Romney campaigns’ television advertising money spent nationwide between April 11 and Election Day. But where within the swing states did the candidates travel? Did they travel everywhere within these swing states, or just to the largest cities? How did geography and demography within swing states affect their campaign strategy? Now, we have the answers.
Voting Blogs: Taking on American Political Dysfunction without Changing the Constitution | FairVote.org
In his draft paper on Political Dysfunction and Constitutional Change, University of California-Irvine professor Rick Hasen makes a powerful case for the need for out-of-the-box thinking on American political reform. But he also makes a curious omission. Fair voting alternatives to winner-take-all elections do not receive a single mention in the paper, even though they were promoted in one of Hasen’s major sources, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s 2012 book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Hasen has a well-deserved reputation as one of our most thoughtful law professors, and his paper has generated considerable reaction in the political blogosphere. It posits three basic claims: 1) The government of the United States is currently dysfunctional, 2) that dysfunction could be solved by switching to a parliamentary system of governance – that is, government where the executive is chosen by the legislature, and 3) switching to a parliamentary system is the only way to end the dysfunction if the problem does not eventually solve itself.
Minnesota: Minneapolis’ mayoral race puts test to ranked-choice voting system | Minnesota Public Radio News
Voters will have several choices to consider in this year’s mayoral election. So far, seven people have declared they are running for mayor in the most hotly contested race Minneapolis has seen in decades. Just as it did four years ago, Minneapolis will use ranked-choice voting to decide the winner. The November election is expected to draw far more voters and put the system to the test. Election judge Nasra Noor showed a voter how to use a ranked-choice ballot in 2009. It was the city’s first election using the new system, which is also called instant-runoff voting. It allows voters to choose up to three candidates for each office and rank them first, second and third. But not many people voted. Fewer than 46,000 ballots were cast that year. It was the lowest general election turnout the city had seen in decades — about half of what is normal for Minneapolis municipal elections.
Virginia: Group Working To End Electoral College Condemns GOP’s ‘Indefensible’ Virginia Scheme | TPM
FairVote, a non-partisan advocacy group, wants to radically transform the Electoral College through state legislation. So do Virginia Republicans pushing a scheme to reapportion their electoral votes by Congressional district. But the similarities end there as FairVote is condemning the Virginia bill as a partisan perversion of their own mission. FairVote executive director Rob Richie described the Virginia plan as “an incredibly unfair and indefensible proposal” to TPM and said he was drafting a message to supporters rallying against its passage. He testified against a similar proposal in Pennsylvania, whose lawmakers briefly considered splitting its electoral votes for the 2012 election before backing down amid a public outcry against the maneuver.
There were no statewide election recounts in 2012. This is particularly noteworthy, considering the fact 419 statewide elections took place this year. In this post-Florida 2000 political landscape, the specter of recounts continues to loom large and you will even read thoughtful people suggesting that the possibility of a recount is enough to oppose a having one-person, one-vote elections for president by national popular vote. However, when we step back and take a close look at the numbers, it becomes clear that chance of actually having to perform a recount is relatively remote. Indeed, from 2000 to 2012, 99.457% of statewide elections have been successfully held without recounts – and recounts take place consistently show minuscule changes in victory margin.
Takoma Park’s instant runoff voting system was put to the test for the first time July 17 for the Ward 5 special election. The city instituted the system in 2006, but this year marks the first election where three or more candidates did not earn a majority of the vote. Of the 189 votes cast in the election, winner Jarrett Smith received 97 votes and runner-up Eric Hensal garnered 80 votes. Third-place finisher Melinda Ulloa received 33 votes, 13 of which went to Smith in the second round and nine to Hensal. In the instant runoff voting system, voters have the option to rank their first, second and third choice candidates. When no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the votes, second-choice votes for backers of the third-place finisher are added to the first- and second-place finishers.
Voting Blogs: The constitutionality of the national popular vote: refuting challenges based on Article II, Section One | State of Elections
The National Popular Vote (NPV) plan guarantees election of the presidential candidate who earns the greatest number of votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. NPV does not dispense with the Electoral College, and is not a constitutional amendment. Rather, the plan is based on two clear powers given to the states under the Constitution: the power under Article 2 Section 1 to choose how to allocate its presidential electors, and the power under Article 1 Section 10 to enter into interstate compacts. States in early U.S. history often exercised the power to change rules for allocating electoral votes. While today, 48 states and the District of Columbia award their electoral votes to the winner of that state’s popular vote, the founders did not originally contemplate this type of system, as James Madison explained in 1823.
One of the most common criticisms of plans to modify or eliminate the Electoral College is that to do so would be to deviate from the wisdom of the Founders of the American political system. But the “Father of the Constitution” himself, James Madison, was never in favor of our current system for electing the president, one in which nearly all states award their electoral votes to the statewide popular vote winner. He ultimately backed a constitutional amendment to prohibit this practice. As historian Garry Wills wrote of our fourth president, “as a framer and defender of the Constitution he had no peer.” Yet, when he helped create the Constitution and when he defended it years after his presidency, Madison repeatedly argued for alternatives to the winner-take-all method of choosing a state’s presidential electors. Like other leaders of that time, he looked at the world with clear eyes and learned from experience, unafraid to support change when that change made sense.
As Assembly members sort through what happened at the polls April 3, national voting groups say the municipality isn’t the only jurisdiction facing electoral troubles. According to the organization Fair Vote, which pushes for election reform across the country, election difficulties are very common these days. The organization points to places like Connecticut, Miami, and now Anchorage. Fair Vote’s spokesperson says the biggest problem is how ill prepared cities officials are: In Anchorage, the most recent election has been called the city’s most chaotic. Critics say what happened on April 3 undermines the democratic process, and they’ve been complaining. “I’m as concerned about the ones I’m not hearing from,” said Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall.
Oakland voters may get a chance to weigh in on the city’s use of ranked-choice voting and the number of terms council members can serve. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente wants to see a November ballot measure that asks voters to repeal ranked-choice voting in city elections, while Councilwoman Jane Brunner wants voters to consider limiting the terms of City Council members and the city attorney to three four-year terms. Currently there are no term limits. The proposals would require a majority council vote to get on the fall ballot. The council is expected to vote on them in mid-May.
On Election Night, Maine’s largest city popularly elected a mayor for the first time in eight decades. But who that person is won’t be publicly-known until later tonight, a day after the polls closed. Josie Huang has more. The city used a time-intensive electoral process called ranked-choice voting that’s has never been tried in Maine until…
Steven Hill is not on San Francisco’s November ballot, but few actual candidates have been as influential, or controversial, in this year’s election. Mr. Hill, an author and public speaker, is considered the guru of ranked-choice voting, a system that creates an instant-runoff by having voters select their top three favorite candidates in order of preference. The system was adopted in San Francisco in 2004, but this election is the first time it will be employed in a competitive mayoral race in the city, since Gavin Newsom ran without serious opposition in 2007.
Mr. Hill, who travels the world promoting changes in electoral systems, said that ranked-choice voting improved turnout, saved money by avoiding expensive, and usually poorly attended, runoff elections and encouraged politicians to reach out to more-diverse constituencies. “You need both a strong core of support to avoid being eliminated in the first round, plus a broad base,” Mr. Hill said.
The system has made campaigning more complex. If no candidate gets a majority, the person at the bottom of the poll is dropped and the second and third choices of his supporters are added to the tallies of the remaining candidates. This continues until someone reaches 50 percent. In some cases, candidates who were not the first choice of a large majority of voters have been elected.