February 24, 2020

Star Tribune: Ranked Choice In The Presidential Primary? Not This Time, Obviously, But Next Time, Please

Opinion editor’s note: This article was submitted on behalf of several Minnesotans who are active in state and national politics. They are listed below.

A lot of attention is being given to our outmoded presidential caucus system and the exaggerated influence that small unrepresentative states have on the winnowing process. The biggest shortcoming of the presidential primary process, however, is the winner-take-all system that leaves us with front-runners who represent just a small fraction of voters. How can any candidate be considered a winner with 26% of the vote?

Our current nominating process is designed as a series of cutthroat contests that polarize supporters and discourage consensus-building. This process heightens divisions and we fear will leave us with a nominee who does not reflect the will of the majority of the people.

These are polarizing times in America, and recent events like the impeachment trial have made it clear that there is no end in sight to the growing partisanship that is putting our democracy at risk. Voters know our system isn’t working and want to break out of this political game of Ping-Pong.

Ranked-choice voting is the way forward and we propose that all states adopt it for presidential primaries. Those states still using outdated caucuses should move to primaries and make voting accessible to all voters who wish to participate.

The Democratic presidential primary rules require candidates to receive at least 15% support in each state in order to receive delegates to the nominating convention in June. The higher the share of votes they get, the more delegates they will have going into the convention.

In a highly fractured primary field like the one we have now, there’s no way to know under the current system who most American voters support. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) would allow voters to rank their preferences rather than vote for just a single choice. If their first choice doesn’t make it through, their second choice counts.

RCV eliminates vote-splitting and spoiler dynamics, incentivizes candidates to appeal beyond their base for second-choice votes, discourages harmful attacks against one another and allows the ultimate nominee to build a broad base of support among a majority (50% + 1) of voters.

RCV is not a new or radical idea. It is used in major democracies across the world and in municipal elections across the country. New York City will begin using it next year. Maine uses it for state and federal elections and — starting this year — in the presidential race as well. A handful of states will use RCV for presidential primaries. Massachusetts and Alaska look poised to pass RCV for state elections this year. It is thriving in Minneapolis and St. Paul and was used in St. Louis Park for the first time last year.

Minnesota has an enviable tradition of good governance, government reform, fairness and innovation. When we see that our political structures aren’t working, we change them. While we can’t use ranked-choice voting for our presidential primary on March 3, we urge the Minnesota Legislature to make sure it’s in place for the next primary in 2024 and to enact RCV for all elections, up and down the ballot in Minnesota.

The authors of this article are U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, Penny and Bill George, Tom Horner, Peter Hutchinson and Karla Ekdahl.

This article was originally posted on StarTribune.com on 2/21/2020.