Sep 132010
 
Authors: Sean Bucher

In a move that would flip Fort Collins politics on its side, a group of voters and organizers have started an initiative to make Fort Collins a ranked voting city.

Ranked voting allows voters to cast their vote for multiple candidates within a single race, ranking their top choices.

“It’s a much more efficient way of voting,” said Chase Eckerdt, director of Community Affairs for the Associated Students of CSU.

The current system is a plurality in which voters choose one candidate and the candidate with the greatest number of votes is elected.

Ranked voting eliminates the bottom candidate in instances of no distinct majority. Once the votes are tallied, the votes are counted again. The system is repeated until the top candidates have clearly been identified through elimination.

In January of 2009, the state of Minnesota switched to run-off voting in a move intended to increase voter and candidate participation. The system, which increased candidate participation by one-third in Minnesota, is considered to be beneficial for third party candidates.

Jesse Ventura, former Minnesota governor and independent, has been a national proponent for the system, arguing for its fairness and increased competition among candidates. Other high profile politicians to endorse the method are President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Robert Duffy, political science department chair, believes the biggest argument against ranked voting systems is that it would be too confusing for voters at the polls.

“It doesn’t favor one ideology over another. It allows voters to elect the candidates that they identify with without sacrificing their vote,” Duffy said.
Duffy pointed to the current Colorado gubernatorial race between John Hickenlooper, Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo to display how ranked voting –– also known as instant run-off voting, IRV –– would give voters more say in which of the three candidates should take office.

“If voters were able to rank their votes, essentially a true majority would win,” Duffy said.

Opponents of the system claim ranked voting is too complicated and too controversial to work, with one complaint being a candidate doesn’t need to receive every first place vote to win.

This argument against the ranked voting method comes from what some call the “the Michael Behrendt Effect.”

Behrendt was a city council candidate in Aspen. He lost the election by 75 votes; the 75 votes were first choice votes. Had they been second choice votes, Behrendt would have won the election.

Despite that instance, Aspen city attorney Jim True believes this is a rarity and is not indicative of the system’s benefits.

“It’s a non-issue. The voters would have had to know beforehand where Behrendt ranked before they cast their ranked votes,” True said. “Aspen will vote in November on whether to repeal IRV.”

If Aspen abandons IRV, city officials would support traditional run-off voting, which would only go into effect if a candidate did not receive a true majority vote.

The voting system has been used for several years to elect Heisman Trophy winners in college football, along with successful uses in multiple city and county races throughout the nation.

“From what I’ve seen, the initiative is very well planned,” Eckerdt said. “This will open up a lot more room for candidates and student candidates in the future.”

Although the current ASCSU Senate has not formally taken a position on the initiative, Eckerdt said the organization will address the issue formally in the upcoming weeks.

Last spring, under ASCSU President Dan Gearhart and Vice President Tim Hole, the Senate unanimously endorsed a piece of legislation that would support ranked voting in Fort Collins.

The initiative requires 2,500 signatures to reach the April ballot in 2011. If the measure passes, it should go into effect around 2013, Eckerdt said.
“I think it will spark interest and revitalize voter participation,” he added.

Staff writer Sean Bucher can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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