Posted by Drew Penrose on November 07, 2017
Although federal elections always fall on even-numbered years, important state and local elections happen every year - and 2017 is no exception. Here are some of the contests FairVote will be watching on Election Day, November 7, 2017.
Minneapolis - Ranked Choice Voting’s Highest Profile Contests This Year
Minneapolis is the largest city that will elect its officers with ranked choice voting (RCV) this year (San Francisco recently adopted a charter amendment changing its election schedule and won’t be holding an RCV election for the first time since 2003). Incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges faces several serious and well-financed challengers in a race that has tackled issues of police reform, public safety, and social justice.
Altogether, 16 candidates will be on the ballot for the office of mayor. Under the city’s prior system, voters would only have two choices in November, with that greater diversity of voices eliminated in a low-turnout primary election two months earlier. With ranked choice voting, voters will have greater choice, and the freedom to rank their choices without needing to worry about the vote being split and a candidate winning Minneapolis’s most important political office with a low plurality of support.
In addition to mayor, Minneapolitans will be electing all 13 city council positions from their respective wards, as well as a total of eight seats on the city’s park board and board of estimate and taxation. The three at-large seats on the city’s park board are especially interesting, as they will be elected using the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting (the “single transferable vote”) that helps promote fair representation of diverse views. Only one incumbent is in the race, with a total of nine candidates competing for the three seats.
Grace Ramsey, FairVote’s deputy outreach director, is in Minneapolis helping FairVote Minnesota staff and volunteers to educate voters about the upcoming election and ranked choice voting. As we wrote following their 2013 elections, Minneapolis is a great example of how ranked choice voting makes elections more fair and inclusive for all voters.
Saint Paul - First Open Seat Mayoral Election with Ranked Choice Voting
Speaking of the Twin Cities, Saint Paul will be conducting its fourth election with ranked choice voting. Incumbent Mayor Chris Coleman (first elected in 2005 before the city adopted RCV) is choosing to run for governor in 2018 instead of re-election. As a result, this will be Saint Paul’s first open seat election for mayor with RCV. Ten candidates are seeking the office. As with Minneapolis, Saint Paul’s use of ranked choice voting allows it to accommodate that high level of competition among diverse viewpoints without fear of “spoilers” or need for strategic voting.
Cambridge - A Proud Tradition of Fair Representation
Since 1941, Cambridge, Mass. has elected both its city council and school board citywide with multi-winner ranked choice voting, which they refer to as proportional representation. Indeed, Cambridge was one of 24 cities to use the system historically. While the other 23 repealed the system in a wave of pushback from political party machines or amid racial tensions, Cambridge retains it to this day and continues to see its benefits.
This year, three of Cambridge’s nine city council seats are open, creating a particularly competitive and dynamic race. FairVote Fellow John Patrick Thomas covers the race on our blog.
Takoma Park - Ranked Choice Voting in FairVote’s Back Yard
The smallest city to elect with ranked choice voting this year is FairVote’s home city - Takoma Park, Md. One of the most politically active cities in the United States, Takoma Park has not been afraid to innovate when it comes to elections. In addition to empowering its voters with ranked choice voting, the city was also the first to include 16- and 17-year-old voters in their municipal elections. The city is also among six cities in Maryland that continue the previously ubiquitous American tradition of including all residents in the community of voters, not just those with citizenship.
Being a small town, Takoma Park elections are often quiet affairs, but this year, there is a competitive three-candidate contest for the city council’s 2nd Ward in which the city’s inclusive group of eligible voters will have the right to rank their choices.
Virginia - A Gubernatorial Election That Could Really Use Ranked Choice Voting Right About Now
In addition to local elections, there are two states holding state elections this year - New Jersey and Virginia.
As Daniel Greenberg, FairVote research intern, covers separately, the Virginia governor election is badly in need of ranked choice voting. The office was elected with a controversial plurality win in 2015, with many predicting a similar result following 2017’s three-candidate race. It has also taken on the fiercely negative tone of national politics. Ranked choice voting could help bring both majority rule and more positive, issue-oriented campaign to elections to the office formerly held by Thomas Jefferson.
State Legislative Races in Virginia and New Jersey
We’ll also be watching the state legislative elections in New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey has 40 districts, each electing one state senator and two assembly members. Although drawn by a redistricting commission, New Jersey’s districts don’t always lead to fair results -- in 2013, for example, Republicans won 51% of the vote in assembly races, but only 40% of seats. Results also largely track underlying partisanship, as demonstrated in our 2015 analysis.
Over in Virginia, this year’s legislative elections at least have fewer uncontested races, but expect the great majority of races to be won according to their partisan lean, just as they did in 2015 when all 122 incumbents were re-elected.