Instant Runoff Voting in St. Paul for (effectively) the first time

I went to a Melvin Carter meet-and-greet this afternoon (more on that later, when I write about the St. Paul mayoral race). During some Q&A someone asked how to most effectively use IRV to vote for Melvin, like who should they put in second place?

The host of the event said, “you should vote Melvin first, second, and third!”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Don’t do this! It won’t help! It won’t hurt your favorite candidate, but you’re giving up your opportunity at a second choice. It’s the same as leaving your 2nd and 3rd (and 4th, 5th, and 6th) choices blank.

“As long as you vote for me first,” Melvin said, “you can put whoever you want in that second slot. And if enough people rank me first, it won’t ever matter!”

“But what if we put Pat Harris in the second slot,” someone asked, “and you have 48% and Pat Harris has 47%…”

“If you visit the FairVote Minnesota site,” I said, “there are videos explaining this.” Because for real, the middle of a candidate meet-and-greet is not a great place to do IRV 101, and it is way easier to understand with visual aids.

Here’s a video.  Here’s another video, this one from MPR. (Here’s an explanation without video but apparently it’s on how races work when you’ve got 3 seats to fill instead of just 1. I don’t think St. Paul has any elections where we do that, because — like Minneapolis — we can’t use IRV for school board races, and unlike Minneapolis, we don’t elect our Park Board.)

This was a meet-and-greet in Mac-Groveland. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people in that room were college-educated; a bunch probably had advanced degrees. But even though ranked-choice voting was implemented in St. Paul during the last election cycle, it wasn’t a competitive race and hardly anyone was paying much attention.

And this is unfortunate, because I think the IRV supporters feel like it’s old news in St. Paul and the aggressive education they did a few years ago was probably sufficient. I’m here to tell you that you need to act as the city is using it for the first time, because there are an awful lot of voters who are using it for the first time.

If you’re voting in St. Paul, and thinking about candidates and how to rank them, a couple of important points.

  1. We get to rank six candidates. Minneapolis only ranks three. We get six slots. You do not have to use all six if you don’t want to.
  2. It does not hurt your first-choice candidate if you list your second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth choices. Those only come into play if your first-choice candidate gets dropped from the ballot.
  3. There are not actually six seriously viable candidates, so don’t sweat six choices. The next mayor of St. Paul is going to be Melvin Carter, Pat Harris, or Dai Thao. If you’re short of time, worry about how to rank those three and don’t worry about where Barnabas Y’shua or Sharon Anderson would fall on your ballot (my advice: not on it at all). Dickinson and Goldstein have at least some chance, and if you totally love Dickinson, by all means list her first, part of the point of IRV is that you can vote your heart! And I’ll be writing about all ten. But in point of fact, it’s going to be Carter, Harris, or Thao, so figure out how you rank those three and then do it. If you adore Melvin Carter but prefer Harris to Thao, then rank Harris second, it will not hurt Melvin Carter in any way.)

But also, if you have not used this system and are not sure how it works, go watch one of the videos! And share it with your friends! These videos were everywhere four years ago when Minneapolis was (effectively) doing this for the first time. And it is a system that is much easier to understand with a visual aid.

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