The citizens of Red Wing, Minnesota recently completed an extensive citizens assembly to learn more about their local government, provide recommendations for the ways to strengthen their local government and increase participation through the electoral processes. Among those recommendations for local elections ranked choice voting (RCV) was highly favored.
The Red Wing Citizens Assembly is the first of three communities participating in the Minnesota Community Assembly Project-- a project with a goal to inspire citizen led reform relating to local government issues. The Minnesota Community Assembly Project is a series of community gatherings that spur participants to rethink civic connections and think of ways to rebuild government structures in their communities. At the end of the Red Wing assembly, participants had the opportunity to make policy recommendations for the ways in which citizens can influence the government.
One of the leading recommendations was implementing ranked choice voting. Under the current voting system in Red Wing, the city uses a primary-runoff method for electing the mayor and city council. All candidates compete in a non-partisan primary election in August followed by the general election between the top two candidates 18 weeks later in November.
Adopting RCV in Red Wing would save time and money by eliminating primaries, allow more candidates with diverse ideas on the general election ballot, and reward candidates for reaching out to more voters as they seek to earn a majority. Voters would have more choices, cast fewer wasted votes and have more incentives to vote in their city elections when turnout is highest.
Background on Citizens Assembly and Its Conclusions
The Citizens Assembly was coordinated by the Minnesota Assembly Project and funded by grants from the Joyce Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. There were around 200 people who indicated interest in the Minnesota Assembly Project effort, but only 36 participants in Red Wing were selected -based on factors including ethnic diversity, education and political orientation. During the first week of the Red Wing Assembly, participants were introduced and considered proposals for several community projects. They reviewed, discussed and prioritized eight qualities of good government to help evaluate their current government structure and then had the opportunity to identify the strengths and challenges of the current system.
By the second week, participants drafted a statement highlighting their vision for local government and developed recommendations to strengthen local structures. In addition, they identified benefits and implementation considerations. The third week consisted of giving a “Statement to Our Community” based on the qualities that they deemed made a good government, concluding that when people become educated about what’s happening, they feel more capable to participate meaningfully; when there are more options for voters, citizens can contribute actively and shape the way decisions are made. Out of the 36 participants that were selected, 24 participants voted in favor of pursuing RCV as a recommendation. RCV was one of the suggestions that received the highest number of votes.