Friday, November 09, 2007

Your turn: Preferential voting is unconstitutional

[ I completely disagree with the following article. I am posting this to show the futility of the pro-lifers to turn a non-partisan issue into a partisan one. IRV supports rather than diminishes democracy. It is a runoff where all votes are counted again each round. No votes are "weighted" more than others. But the majority ALWAYS wins. ]

By Andy Cilek and Matt Marchetti, Minnesota Voters Alliance ( Republican Party / MInnesotans Concerned for Life )

Minneapolis voters recently approved a little understood and poorly described voting system called Single Transferable Vote, also known as Ranked Choice Voting or Instant Runoff Voting. Now, its proponents want to foist the same scheme on the unsuspecting voters of St. Paul.

Preferential voting systems, which require voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than vote for one, are seriously flawed, undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Political insiders and groups such as Fairvote tout IRV while either ignoring or downplaying any opposing arguments. They conveniently gloss over the fact that the Minnesota Supreme Court, in Brown vs. Smallwood, ruled preferential voting unconstitutional in 1915.

In a recent article published on Fairvote Minnesota's site, Professor David Shultz of Hamline University (and also of Fairvote) wrongly accused a local reporter of misinterpreting the attorney general's recent report, which simply stated that if Brown was still to be followed, (which we believe it is), IRV was "probably" unconstitutional.

Even worse, Shultz displayed an utter ignorance of basic civics by referring to the Brown decision as "antiquated." So then the Constitution must be antiquated, too?

It should also be noted here before IRV being placed on the 2006 ballot, Burt Osborne, then Minneapolis city attorney, said "the city of Minneapolis appears to be precluded from adopting a preferential voting system generally unless such a system is provided for by the Minnesota Constitution pursuant to Brown v. Smallwood, 153 N.W. 953, 957 (Minn. 1915)." The mayor and City Council ignored this warning and pushed it through anyway.

The state's highest court ruled in 1915 that preferential voting systems were "contrary to the intent of our Constitution." In this decision, the court emphasized that the Constitution, by implication, forbids any elector to cast more than a "single expression of opinion or choice."

In an attempt to circumvent this ruling, Schultz argues that the 1915 court ruled preferential voting unconstitutional merely because it involved the Bucklin method of counting, which "had the effect of giving some voters more than one vote."

He argues that IRV "does not share this fatal flaw." The claim is that even though each voter may cast multiple votes, only one vote is actually counted — the one applied to the highest preferred candidate eligible to receive it.

This is pure rhetorical trickery. Where did the other votes go, cyberspace? It only stands to reason that if you rank three choices on the ballot, you've cast three votes!

The defining characteristic of all preferential voting systems is the existence of secondary choices, regardless of the counting scheme. The issue is NOT how votes are counted, transferred or manipulated, but how many votes (choices) each voter may cast. Because IRV allows voters to rank multiple candidates, it does indeed "share this fatal flaw."

IRV has yet another fatal flaw; all ballots are not counted equally! While the Bucklin method provides for all secondary votes to be counted when necessary, IRV only counts second choice votes on those ballots cast for defeated candidates. This means some voters end up having their first and subsequent choices counted while others have only their first choice votes counted.

The court clearly stated, "The preferential system of voting directly diminishes the right of an elector to give an effective vote for the candidate of his choice."

Consider an IRV election with three candidates, A, B and C. Candidate A receives 40 first choice votes, candidate B receives 35, and candidate C receives 25. Because no candidate received 51 percent of the first choice votes, candidate C is eliminated, and those 25 ballots are recounted for second choice votes and a new total is then re-tallied. If 16 of those second choice votes went to candidate B, and nine went to candidate A; candidate B is declared the winner with 51 votes.

In this example, the voters who preferred candidate C had their first and second choice votes counted while those who preferred candidate A had only their first choice votes counted. Clearly, the voters who preferred Candidate A had their right to cast an effective vote diminished.

Brown vs. Smallwood concludes, "The decision is sound; we do right in upholding the right of the citizen to cast a vote for the candidate of his choice unimpaired by the second and additional choice votes cast by others."

We believe any objective court will rule all preferential voting systems unconstitutional because they all share the same undemocratic characteristics. IRV advocates make many arguments supporting their scheme, but an in-depth examination will reveal that none of them hold water.

This is the opinion of Andy Cilek and Matt Marchetti of Minnesota Voters Alliance, a citizens group formed with the primary purpose of empowering the electorate.

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