In January 2004, the Roseville City Council passed a resolution asking the Minnesota legislature to enact a bill which would allow the Council to consider using ranked voting for a special election. Ranked voting allows the voters to indicate their second and third choices as well as their favorite.

In Roseville, five candidates were seeking the council seat which opened up when a council member was elected mayor in November 2003. Roseville politics and money concerns dictated that this Special Election would not have a primary. Therefore, there was the prospect that a candidate could win with only 21% of the vote and would actually be considered unacceptable by the majority.

That’s why the council passed the resolution. Roseville politics have been contentious of late, and it would relieve many concerns if the new council person had a mandate.

So what was preventing Roseville? Municipal lawyers recommended that a bill be passed in the state legislature establishing that Roseville could do this. OK, no problem–who’s going to oppose that? After all, the bill applied only to Roseville. It applied only to this one election. It did not require Roseville to use the process–it simply permitted the Roseville City Council to consider this option and debate an ordinance after getting feedback from its citizens.

Many have expressed concerns about ranked voting: that it is too complicated for our more feeble voters; that it is too hard to count the ballots; that the result might not be as equitable as hoped. But these were issues for Roseville to consider. Only by trying the process could these concerns be proven. It wouldn’t be the place of the state legislature to pre-empt the whole debate by refusing to allow Roseville to even consider this option, would it?

All three of the legislators representing Roseville sponsored and supported the bill. All five of the candidates signed a resolution which supported the use of Instant Runoff in this election.

The bill was defeated. On March 15, 2004, the House of Representatives voted 78 to 54 to deny the Roseville City Council the right to debate and consider the use of ranked voting for one election.

Where did the opposition come from? Since there was no debate, we don’t know. Republican author Jim Rhodes gave a brief introduction to the bill. Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville declared her support. Jim Rhodes said a few more words. Acting speaker Lynda Boudreau asked for more discussion. There was none. Not one representative would speak against the bill. I don’t think they even knew why they were opposing it. They did what they were told.

Why would using Instant Runoff in one Roseville election bother the Republican leadership, the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), and Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer? What were they afraid of?

There’s only one conclusion. They were afraid voters would like it.

That’s right. If voters in Roseville liked it, then other cities might want to try it. School districts could eliminate expensive primaries. And the next thing you know, Minnesotans might want to use it for statewide elections.

And the next thing you know, voters will be ranking Ralph Nader first, and the Democrat second, and the Democrats will win the White House and appoint activist pro-abortion judges.

Was that their reasoning? We will never know. They won’t say. Mary Kiffmeyer’s public position on Instant Runoff was “We should have cautious consideration.” No one from her office ever publicly testified on the Roseville bill, even though they were aware of it from day one. She refused to respond to requests for her position. But she sent her deputy Tony Kielkucki into the House Republican Caucus minutes before the floor session convened to tell members that Mary opposed the bill and thought it was too confusing. Wouldn’t that be for Roseville to decide? Minnesotans, if your Secretary of State were concerned about you or the City of Roseville instead of Republicans, wouldn’t she state her position publicly instead of behind closed doors?

True, Mary Kiffmeyer was a Republican activist before she became Secretary of State. She ran as a Republican. But once she became elected, she should have been Secretary of State for all Minnesotans. Sending her deputy into the Republican Caucus before a floor vote is like a Referee going into the locker room before the game and telling the the home team what strategy to use.

MCCL sent out its “Issues Update” to selected legislators in February, basically opposing IRV because “we don’t believe that the issues addressed by instant runoff voting are problems.” Shouldn’t it be up to Roseville to decide whether having a election winner with only 21% of the vote is a problem?

That the MCCL made a last minute demand to pro-lifers to kill the bill is without question. In addition to the 73 of 79 Republicans present who voted against the bill, there were five DFLers, all pro-life. Three of them pushed yes, then switched to no when it became apparent that the bill was defeated. Why take the heat from MCCL for a losing cause? One of those late switchers, Irv Anderson, came out and admitted to reporters that MCCL lobbied him to oppose the bill.

Republican leaders gave the only public objections to the bill to the press after the vote. Speaker Steve Sviggum said “The Constitution is ‘one person, one vote.’ You don’t get two or three or four or five choices. That’s not what making choices is.”

Speaker Sviggum, who is not an attorney, could have raised his Constitutional concerns in the floor debate. If he had, Rep. Len Biernat, who is a lawyer and law professor, was prepared to cite the only case to address Instant Runoff, a case from Ann Arbor, Michigan which clearly stated that IRV is constitutional and does not violate the one person one vote principle. Voters only have one vote–if their first choice is eliminated, their only vote transfers to their next choice, just like voting in a primary and then voting again in the general election, except that the two are efficiently combined. All voters have the same rights. It’s not only fair, it’s more fair than a system where voters can only express a fraction of their views on the candidates and where a candidate can win without a majority. But Speaker, even if you profess to not like the system, what gives you the arrogance to tell Roseville not to try it?

Worse yet was Rep. Erik Paulsen, Majority Leader of the House Republicans. He was quoted as saying, “People vote for the one person you think should take office, and you live with the results. That’s democracy.”

Please contemplate this statement. Please contemplate the cynicism of it. Contemplate the ignorance of it–democracies all over the world successfully use systems that don’t have the limitations of ours. Contemplate the lack of imagination. Do we have to ration out votes like they are scarce? Rep. Paulsen, there was plenty of room on the ballot for Roseville voters to express their preferences among all the candidates. Why do we have to limit the expression of our opinions? Why didn’t you give Roseville a chance to show that our views need not be squeezed through your limited vision of democracy?

You may have heard that Republicans stand for the principle of local governance. You may have heard that they support localities finding creative ways to keep property taxes down. Those principles have a funny way of disappearing when leaders or powerful lobbyists say, “This may not be good for us.”

Governor Tim Pawlenty was begged to take the lead on this issue and didn’t say word one: His State of the State pledge, only weeks before, was to explore every idea and develop every option.He quoted FDR in that speech: “The country needs...the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and move on. But above all, try something.”

Governor, as you were advised, this process could save millions of dollars for Minnesotans by eliminating a small percentage of non-partisan primary elections. You let Minnesota down by not supporting this very simple, no cost, experiment.

The interests of Minnesota were not served by the Governor, by the Republican leaders, by the Secretary of State, or by the MCCL. They all put their own interests, as they perceived them, ahead of Minnesotans.