Ranked-choice voting push continues at Capitol

A pair of DFL lawmakers and Secretary of State Steve Simon want to make it easier for Minnesota cities to adopt ranked-choice voting.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier presents his bill before a House committee Wednesday. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

pair of DFL lawmakers who fell short last year of gaining enough support in the legislature to turn Minnesota into a ranked-choice voting state aren’t giving up on their goal. They’ve just scaled back their efforts to more incremental steps.

On Wednesday, a committee in the state House approved a bill that would make it easier for cities across the state to implement ranked-choice voting as a method of electing local representation.

HF3276 would amend state law to allow municipal governments of all forms to implement ranked-choice voting by ordinance, referendum or charter amendment.

Currently, only municipalities that are self-governed by charter can implement RCV, and that must be done by a voter-approved ballot referendum.

Just 107 of the state’s 853 cities are “home-rule charter” cities. The others are considered statutory municipalities, and in order for those local governments to change their voting system they would have to approve it locally and then petition the legislature to grant the change to RCV as a method for electing their local representation.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier wants to change that. The two-term DFLer from New Hope said his bill contains no mandates; “it simply allows jurisdictions to adopt ranked-choice voting by ordinance, resolutions, referenda or amending their charter if they want to.”

Frazier and Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Shorewood, have been two of the most outspoken Democrats over the last few years to sign onto and promote ranked-choice voting. Morrison is the chief author of the companion bill in the Senate.

Frazier told his colleagues during a hearing on the bill in the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee on Wednesday that ranked-choice voting has a number of benefits, including bringing more race-based equity to the democratic process.

“[RCV] is especially important for communities of color who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in our political system,” Frazier said, adding that traditional voting elections leave voters of color “feeling ignored and disempowered.”

“[RCV] allows more diverse candidates to run for office … [it] has been shown to increase opportunities for women and communities of color,” Frazier added, citing a few anecdotal examples, such as all-female city councils in St. Paul and Minnetonka, both ranked-choice voting cities.

Secretary of State Steve Simon testified in support of the bill, saying it would give both charter cities and statutory cities more freedom “to experiment with” ranked-choice voting.

“If they don’t like it, they can ditch it,” Simon said. “If they like it, they can keep it; but it really is that simple.”

Criticism over voter fatigue on selecting multiple candidates

The proposal passed in the committee on a divided voice vote, with Republican members voting in opposition. Its next stop is the House State and Local Government Committee.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to pick multiple candidates for an office and rank them in the order of their preference (first choice, second choice, third choice, etc.) If any candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, he or she is declared the winner. If not, then the election goes to subsequent rounds, with the lowest vote-getter’s totals in each round being re-distributed to the second, third or fourth choices of voters who picked them first.

Secretary of State Steve Simon testified in support of the bill, saying it would give both charter cities and statutory cities more freedom “to experiment with” ranked-choice voting. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

Rep. Duane Quam unsuccessfully offered an amendment to the bill that would require the winner of a ranked-choice voting election to receive a majority of the total votes cast. He cited cases across the nation where people choose not to vote for a second, third or fourth choice.

“There are times where you get to the third or fourth [rounds] and the total number of votes decreases sufficiently to where the majority of the remaining votes are not a majority of the votes cast,” Quam said. Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the committee, voted against Quam’s amendment.

Some residents in newly-enshrined ranked-choice voting cities have pushed back on a process they say is confusing for many and was implemented in low voter turnout election cycles.

Last fall a group of citizens in Minnetonka organized to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal RCV. That measure failed with more than 7,000 votes cast to keep RCV against about 5,000 who voted to repeal.

When a proposal to implement RCV statewide failed one year ago in the Minnesota Senate, Republicans cited a recent study on the subject released by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The study, authored by political scientists Larry Jacobs and Penny Thomas, concluded there was no conclusive evidence to the RCV proponents’ claims that it lessens political polarization and increases diversity in elected offices.

Ranked-choice voting movement well-funded in Minnesota and beyond

The ranked-choice voting movement in Minnesota has been pushed for the last several years by FairVote Minnesota, a local chapter of the national FairVote organization.

FairVote Minnesota raised more than $1.6 million in 2022 for campaigning and outreach activities to promote RCV. Its executive compensation expenses have more than tripled over the last five years, according to public tax filings. The organization paid its executive director, Jeanne Massey, more than $226,000 in 2022.

Massey is active on social media in sharing the endorsements RCV has received from dozens of DFL legislators and statewide and federal elected officials, including Gov. Tim Walz, Sen. Tina Smith and Congressman Dean Phillips.

The organization has been heavily funded by donors from outside the state of Minnesota, who have helped bankroll expensive campaigns to approve RCV ballot referenda in charter-governed cities like Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and Bloomington. In 2015, FairVote Minnesota and an allied organization spent $181,000 to drum up support for an RCV measure.

Some of FairVote Minnesota’s prominent donors include Kathryn Murdoch, daughter-in-law to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and Texas billionaire John Arnold, who donated almost $2 million in recent years to the Minnesota group.


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.