Tim Penny: Multitude of candidates begs for ranked choice voting

The 1st District Special Election calls for Ranked Choice Voting to be implemented now and permanently for many elections.

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If there were ever an election poster child for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), the special election to replace First Congressional District Representative Jim Hagedorn is it. With 10 Republicans competing against each other on the primary ballot — and similarly eight Democrats — the candidates who win the primary are likely to do so with a mere fraction of voter support.

Tim Penny.jpg
Tim Penny.

This split-vote result will be compounded by the timing of this special primary election in late May — when most voters are not tuned in. There is typically a much lower turnout for primaries, meaning the election result will be determined largely by each party's activist base.

Ranked Choice Voting would assure that the winner has broader support within their respective party. In short, RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate earns majority support outright — which is unlikely in a field of 8-10 candidates — then the candidate with the least support is eliminated, and those ballots transfer to those voters' second choices. This instant runoff continues until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.

Ranked Choice Voting would result in candidates who have wider support within their own party. Of course, RCV should not only be used in the primary, but also in the General Election where it would eliminate the spoiler problem where the presence of multiple parties can often result in the winning candidate securing well less than majority support. Going forward, RCV is an election reform that merits serious consideration.

Tim Penny, of Owatonna, is a former 1st District representative, and current head of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

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