Less than half utilized 2nd choice option in mayoral race; voter turnout down by 25,000+ from 2005

Although nearly two-thirds of Minneapolis voters approved the change to ranked choice voting in 2006, less than half actually utilized the option of ranking multiple candidates in the mayoral election Tuesday night.

Back in 2006, 64.9 percent of Minneapolis voters checked ‘yes’ to approve ranked choice voting, while 35.1 percent disapproved. However, 18.8 percent of all those who voted in the ’06 election did not vote on this ballot question; as such, 52.7 percent of all Minneapolis residents who went to the polls in 2006 actively voted to support the measure.

Ranked choice voting is heralded by its proponents, such as FairVote Minnesota, for a variety of reasons such as increasing voter participation, eliminating “wasted” votes by its ability to redistribute votes cast for less popular candidates to more popular candidates, solving the “spoiler” problem, and giving voters more choices.

But in the top-of-the-ticket mayoral race in 2009, in which incumbent R.T. Rybak won 73.6 percent of the vote as ranked choice voting made its debut in Minnesota, only a minority of Minneapolis voters utilized their new right to rank multiple candidates on the ballot.

Overall, 45,117 voted for a first choice in the mayoral race. But only 48.8 percent of Minneapolis voters (22,032) opted to vote for a second choice, and just 34.4 percent (15,511) ranked three candidates.

The question as to whether or not more Minneapolis residents would have taken advantage of the ranked choice voting system in the mayoral race if Rybak had faced greater competition remains an open one.

As for voter turnout, the ranked choice voting system did not seem to energize the electorate on its face. There were 25,156 fewer Minneapolis residents who turned out to vote at the ballot box in 2009 compared to the 2005 general election, or a drop of 35.8 percent. In 2005, 70,273 voted in the Minneapolis mayoral race, for a turnout of 30 percent, compared to 45,117 voters in 2009.

Low voter turnout generally can be partially attributed to the lack of competition in the 2009 mayoral race, although Rybak’s 25-point victory over Peter McLaughlin in 2005 was hardly a nail-biter of a race.

The question for those concerned about civic engagement is whether or not voter turnout would have been even lower (or, theoretically, higher) if ranked choice voting had not been implemented in this year’s election.

Ranked choice voting advocates did score a major victory Tuesday night, however, as the measure was passed by a narrow majority of 52 percent of voters in the City of St. Paul.

Two Minneapolis City Council races did not produce a majority winner in the first choice column Tuesday evening, and will therefore trigger the ranked choice voting redistribution of votes of the lowest ranked candidate(s) until one candidate reaches a majority.

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1 Comment

  1. Dale Sheldon on November 5, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Does/will the Minnesota law actually require a majority to appoint an IRV winner, or, if enough ballots become exhausted (by not listing follow-up choices), does the win go to the highest plurality-scoring candidate from among the last two standing? (Or do exhausted ballots not count into the percentage?)