Ranked-choice voting leaves many still undecided

6:39 AM, Nov 4, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The fight to become Minneapolis mayor could be waged on doorsteps in the final hours. This weekend campaigns canvassed every corner of the city, knocking doors and handing out candidate literature in search of the still undecided voter.

"It's absolutely not over," said Rebecca Gagnon, a Minneapolis school board member out canvassing for several candidates in city council and park board races. "Most folks have made their first choice, a lot of us are vying for second and third which will be very important. You just want to be one of their three, preferably their first, but one of their three on the ballot."

For many voters, decision time is even more challenging when faced with rank choice voting, selecting the top three candidates in order of preference.

"I'm just overwhelmed, there are a lot of candidates and they seem to say a lot of the same things so it's very hard to differentiate between," said Sonia Schantz, of Linden Hills, who plans to do more research in the coming days.

University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson says this common uncertainty is result of ranked-choice voting, where voters select their top three candidates. The system is intended to avoid mud-slinging but she says it muddles the selection process for voters.

"I think this race has been more civil because candidates are trying to get other candidates second and third choice voters. So they are likely to say nice things about their opponents to try to attract their supporters for a second or third choice," said Pearson. "But the problem for voters is that means candidates have not as many critical things about the others as one might hope so it actually makes the similarities between the candidates more clear than the differences."

Pearson says with 35 candidates running - eight of whom have launched serious campaigns - voters do need to do their homework because with the new system because second and third choices matter.

She points out it is entirely possible the winner may not have the most first choice votes. Jean Quan, the current mayor of Oakland, California, was elected through ranked-choice voting in 2010 because she received the most second and third choice votes. As other candidates were eliminated, she moved into the lead.

"For their second and third choice, they have to think strategically, they have to think okay, is my candidate likely to get in a run-off position in the top two? If not, who else do I like that might also be in a position?" said Pearson.

In North Minneapolis, voter Roland Baker says he has his top three picks, but doesn't yet know how he'll rank them.  He'll spend the final hours researching but says the tough decision may call for his own last minute strategy.

"When I get in the booth, I'll decide," said Baker.

Due to the complexities of ranked-choice voting, the winner will not be declared until Wednesday at the earliest.


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