Minnetonka woman leads grassroots effort to repeal ranked choice voting

With every voter she reaches, Ellen Cousins believes momentum is on the side of "Vote Yes 2 Repeal RCV in Minnetonka."

Ellen Cousins appears on "Republican Roundtable" in October to discuss her effort to end Minnetonka's status as a ranked choice voting city. (Republican Roundtable/YouTube)

A city in the west metro Twin Cities has become ground zero in a larger battle waged by well-funded progressive activists to turn Minnesota into a ranked choice voting state. And Ellen Cousins might be the woman to stop FairVote MN in its tracks.

The Minnetonka resident has held several volunteer positions on city commissions and within her local school district over the last three decades. She’s now channeling her zeal for civics and community service into a grassroots movement to repeal ranked choice voting as a method of electing city officials in Minnetonka. And the more voters Cousins and her volunteers reach as the Nov. 7 election draws near, the more they believe momentum is on their side.

When contacted by Alpha News on Monday, Cousins said she was busy door knocking and is “super focused on getting out the vote.”

“Can we talk on Wednesday after our win?”

That optimism is not only due to her diligent voter outreach efforts, but also a series of key endorsements the “Vote Yes 2 Repeal RCV in Minnetonka” organization has earned.

A flyer the organization is circulating around the community features the endorsement of two former Minnetonka mayors and the current mayor, along with a few longtime City Council members who argue that all the talking points RCV enthusiasts bring up never come to fruition.

The last-minute canvassing of the city, scouring for would-be voters, follows a months-long campaign Cousins led this spring and summer to garner enough signatures to get the following question on the ballot:

“Shall the Minnetonka City Charter be amended to repeal ranked choice voting as the method for electing the Mayor and City Council and reinstate the use of a primary (if needed) and general elections?”

In an interview last month on a local community cable television program, Cousins said her efforts to garner at least 1,700 signatures from residents required to get the question on the ballot was a success.

“We know this is a bipartisan issue that affects everyone from Republicans to Democrats, to independents,” Cousins said. “It’s amazing how many people are not for ranked choice voting when we talk to them and they want to repeal this.”

The DFL connection to deep-pocketed ranked choice voting lobby

Those who support keeping RCV as a method of electing Minnetonka City Council members and mayor say it eliminates the need for expensive primaries and attracts more candidates to the races. But Cousins says that’s not the case.

In 2020, a City Council-led referendum to turn Minnetonka into a ranked choice voting city passed with 55 percent of the vote. But Cousins and her supporters believe that residents didn’t truly know what they were voting for during a pandemic election year with a large percentage of early, mail-in ballot voting.

During that election, nearly 30,000 people voted in Minnetonka. The following year in 2021, just 11,000 people voted in the municipal election, the first year of ranked choice voting in Minnetonka. It’s expected that fewer than that will vote in Tuesday’s citywide election.

Several DFL Party elected officials and activists have lined up to support keeping ranked choice voting in Minnetonka, including but not limited to: Gov. Tim Walz, Congressman Dean Phillips, state Rep. Laurie Pryor of Minnetonka, and state Sens. Steve Cwodzinski of Eden Prairie and Kelly Morrison of Deephaven. Morrison was the sponsor of a bill in the Senate that would make Minnesota the third state in the nation to employ ranked choice voting in all its legislative and statewide elections. That bill gained some momentum, but ultimately was scaled back, even by Democrats, who balked at passing the legislation after Secretary of State Steve Simon testified at the legislature that he didn’t think Minnesota was ready for RCV statewide.

The ranked choice voting movement in Minnesota has been pushed for the last several years by FairVote Minnesota, which raised nearly $1 million in 2020 for campaigning and outreach activities to promote RCV. Some of FairVote Minnesota’s prominent donors include Kathryn Murdoch, daughter-in-law to media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Most DFL legislators now support statewide ranked choice voting and have appeared along the campaign trail with FairVote Minnesota executive director Jeanne Massey, who has made it her organization’s top priority. She’s even enlisted help from famed University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Mike Osterholm (who sits on the executive board of FairVote Minnesota) to promote ranked choice voting.

But that doesn’t seem to have fazed Ellen Cousins, who believes that every door she knocks on and every flyer she hands out will help her beat the odds.

“Our ballot question, when we submitted it, it was the first time a citizen-led ballot question has been on the ballot in (city) history,” Cousins said during her October interview. “We did it with shoe leather and some passionate people who love Minnetonka.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.