I’ve run in 13 elections spread over four different decades. I lost my first election in 1988, a general for the State Senate and my last, for mayor, in 2018. In between I won two primary elections (one for State Senate and one for State House) and nine general elections (four for State Senate, two for State House and three for Mitchell City Council). In three of those winning elections, I didn’t have a majority.
In my two races for state representative I was the top vote getter by being the electorate’s second choice. Allow me to explain, there were four candidates and people could vote for two. If four different voters voted for four different first choices the tally might look something like this; Candidate 1 Olson/Candidate 2, Candidate 2/Olson, Candidate 3/Olson, Candidate 4/Olson resulting in Olson four votes, Candidate 2 with two votes and the others with one vote apiece. Often a winning percentage was in the low-30s, hardly a mandate. My first election for city council saw me win with just one vote short of a majority in a three-candidate field.
The question is should the majority decide? If so, how do we achieve a majority result in a multi-candidate election or in the case of a tied result? The National Council of State Legislatures reports that in the case of a tie in legislative races for State Senate or State House: 27 states draw straws; 15 states have a runoff election; the states of Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia allow the State Election Board or Governor to decide; in the case of Nevada and New Hampshire a tie is broken by a joint vote of the Legislature and there are various other miscellaneous decision making mechanisms in a handful of other states as well.
The Washington Post reports that 35 states decide deadlocked municipal and federal elections for Congress by drawing straws or tossing a coin with states like Nevada and Arizona cutting a deck of cards.
Is there a better way? I think there is and Maine has found it. Maine adopted ranked voting in 2016 and used it in all their state and federal elections in 2018. Maine will use it for all their elections, including presidential balloting, in 2020. Several municipalities use this system as well; Minneapolis and St. Paul do, San Francisco does as well as Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other municipalities with New York City scheduled to follow in 2021.
Imagine for a moment that Mitchell had ranked voting for the 2018 mayoral race. People would have voted for all four candidates in rank order 1, 2, 3, 4. Bob Everson won that race by winning a plurality of votes in a field of four candidates.
However, in ranked voting the election isn’t over until one candidate gets a majority of the votes cast. In ranked voting, where there is no majority, the bottom candidate is dropped and their second choice is awarded the appropriate votes. Steve Larson was the fourth candidate so he would have been dropped but his voters’ second choices for Everson, Olson and Volesky would have been tabulated and added to the original totals for those three candidates. If one of the remaining three had a majority, the election is over.
If not then in a similar fashion the next lowest candidate would be dropped and those second choice votes distributed. At that point, the election is over — either with a majority winner or a tie to be broken in some way, my preference is a runoff election.
I have always trusted the voters and respected their judgment. People don’t always know what they want but they always know what they don’t want. I think a ranked voting system would clearly have produced a mandate for Mayor Bob Everson. I hope Bob keeps up the good work and runs for reelection when that time comes.