Instant runoff is a national issue
April 1, 2009
In Steve Brandt's recent article, "Instant Runoff ruling tests Minneapolis' resolve," Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said "It's highly unlikely that the U. S. Supreme Court would want to weigh in with a state issue."
While Supreme Court review is discretionary, she's wrong about what is at stake -- voter rights embodied in the state and federal constitutions. And it is not just a local issue. The rights affected by instant runoff voting (IRV) and being fought over have national significance.
It appears that Ms. Glidden either failed to read the court briefs and recognize that the legal claims made fall under both the Minnesota and United States Constitutions or she was just dodging the question of whether the city would appeal if it loses at the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Simply stated, IRV forces voters to either dilute the strength of their ballot by not ranking all the candidates, or to rank candidates they do not prefer at all. Thus, the voter must either violate his own equal protection rights (14th Amendment), because other ballots would carry more weight, or violate his own rights of "political" association (First Amendment), by having to "vote" for a candidate he or she opposes.
IRV also violates the right to association in that a voter can unknowingly cause harm to his favorite candidate simply by raising him in rank, or ranking him as a first choice. No voter should ever be put in a position of being able to cause his or her favored candidate to lose simply by voting for that candidate.
By calling these objectionable characteristics of preferential voting "an acceptable constitutional risk," the lower court also admitted that IRV does harm a voter's "right to cast an effective vote for the candidate of his choice."
These particular constitutional issues, as presented by the Minnesota Voters Alliance, have never been adjudicated anywhere in the United States since Brown v. Smallwood. And no court, until the recent Hennepin County District Court decision, has admitted that IRV harms the effectiveness of a voter's vote.
No one knows if the U.S. Supreme Court would take an IRV case, but because of the unique issues and arguments presented under the United States Constitution and made against Minneapolis, this case could lead the way to protect the rights of all voters.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MINNESOTA VOTERS ALLIANCE