Wed 22 Mar 2017 4:35PM

How Minneapolis got PR

FS Fillard Spring-Rhyne Public Seen by 353

In 2006, Minneapolis passed a ballot measure to elect 21 local offices, including mayor and city council, with single-seat IRV. The same measure specified that 3 of the 9 seats on the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board would be elected citywide using multi-seat IRV, which is a form of proportional representation.

(For how multi-seat IRV works, see the excellent video at https://youtu.be/lNxwMdI8OWw . There’s also a single-seat IRV video at https://youtu.be/_5SLQXNpzsk , which I recommend watching first. The two videos’ combined length is about 4 minutes. Definitely worth the time.)

I wasn’t living in Minnesota in 2006 and wasn’t directly exposed to the local dialogue or mood, but I think it’s safe to say that the proposed use of multi-seat IRV didn’t fly under the radar. People who were paying attention knew about it and probably thought it was strange. But it was a small change, affecting just 1/3 of the seats on a minor board. People were naturally much more concerned about the mayor and city council, and I think people made up their minds on the IRV measure by looking at what would happen with those relatively high-profile elections. Whatever thoughts they had about multi-seat IRV were secondary.

The measure passed, and IRV’s shift from proposal to reality doesn’t seem to have changed the “just a footnote” status of those 3 seats on the park board. But what we know is that PR is working in Minneapolis. It’s working legally. It’s working logistically. It’s working educationally. The use of a vote-counting system that involves fractions has not caused Minneapolis to implode. That is huge if Minneapolis or any other jurisdiction in Minnesota ever wants to do anything more substantial with PR. Track records matter.

If you want something to fly, you have to get it off the ground.

If you want something to fly, you have to get it off the ground.

Whether or how the Minneapolis strategy could translate to the Portland area I’m not sure. If for example we wanted to imitate Minneapolis as closely as possible, there’s the soil and water conservation districts. I haven’t looked at how well those could piggyback onto "big" local races. There’s also the school board and Metro, but those are more controversial, which could make them less suitable for this kind of approach.

But this is something to be aware of. Know what Minneapolis did, and know that it matters to future PR efforts in the area.


Clay Shentrup Wed 22 Mar 2017 4:38PM

The same measure specified that 3 of the 9 seats on the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board would be elected citywide using multi-seat IRV, which is a form of proportional representation.

STV, not IRV. IRV is the single-winner non-proportional form of STV.


Fillard Spring-Rhyne Wed 22 Mar 2017 4:45PM

Terminology battles.


Mark Frohnmayer Wed 22 Mar 2017 4:48PM

@fillardspringrhyne have you had a chance to check out http://equal.vote/Burlington ? I don't think you'll find many folks here arguing against some form of PR, but advocacy for PR shouldn't be used as a dodge to overlook IRV's problems with single-winner elections. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, since the hypothetical SRV election you were working through at the general meeting maps very closely to the Burlington 2009 IRV election.


Clay Shentrup Thu 23 Mar 2017 5:05AM

I'm not anti-PR per se, but I think its advocates tend to assume it's inherently correct rather than being utilitarians and trying to look at empirical evidence as to its efficacy. I also think it's a cart-before-horse kind of thing.



David Johnson Thu 23 Mar 2017 3:14PM

Fillard, this is an interesting data point. However, I'm unsure if change to an election that no one cares about will really build confidence for a meaningful change later on. It would be a way to avoid opposition; but I'm not sure you could generate the positive energy if it was the only change being proposed. Another take away from this was that they changed 21 elections at one time... do you know in general if this kind of massive change vs narrow targeted change has more success historically? Given Portland's historical rejection of change to governmental organization I'm thinking massive change here wouldn't fly.


Kristin Eberhard Thu 23 Mar 2017 4:03PM

@fillardspringrhyne - thanks for sharing! Are you aware of any other uses of STV in the US (other than Cambridge)?


Clay Shentrup Sun 26 Mar 2017 6:49PM

No, he isn't. Because those are the only two.


Sara Wolf Sat 25 Mar 2017 11:14PM

Thanks for sharing!

I'm not sure if you've read my report card on IRV and SRV, but I'm curious how you would grade IRV-PR on the 6 criteria we agreed on here. (Lets scrap the name STV for obvious reasons, lol.) It could be compared to single-winner proportional district based PR using IRV and/or SRV, and also at large RRV and SRV-PR. An A+ is a perfect ideal system. The criteria are Honesty, Accuracy, Equality, Expressiveness, Simplicity and Viability. Each grade given should have a comment that explains it. There are more detailed explanations of the criteria here:


HONESTY- Encourages and rewards honest voting.
EQUALITY- Doesn’t favor some voters or candidates over others based on preferences, location, political party, etc.
ACCURACY- As many voters as possible as happy as possible. Measured by Voter Satisfaction Efficiency.
SIMPLICITY- User friendly for voters and elections officials.
EXPRESSIVENESS- The ballot can show nuanced support for multiple candidates.
VIABILITY- Has a good chance of being passed and not being repealed.



Fillard Spring-Rhyne Sun 26 Mar 2017 4:20AM

David, the distinction you draw between avoiding opposition and generating positive energy is an important one. Very few people are going to get excited about the use of multi-winner IRV for 3 seats on a park board. (Though I certainly did! :smiley:) But I can tell you from extensive experience that statements like "it's complicated", "it's expensive", and "it's illegal" tend to be highly effective at shutting down discussions about voting system reform. If you can say, "Another jurisdiction in this state is using this exact system", that won’t necessarily dismiss the above objections, but it should enable you to continue the discussion and to steer it in a more rational direction.

None of this is necessarily to say that I think Portland should do what Minneapolis did. I just think we should keep strategies like this in mind and think for the long term. Do our future selves a favor.

Minneapolis per se has more elected positions than Portland per se, so changing the elections to 21 offices was big but not that big.

Cambridge and Minneapolis are the only US locations I’m aware of that currently use multi-winner IRV for governmental elections, though there have been others in the past. Ohio in particular has a fascinating history of using multi-winner IRV; the results included a dramatic increase in representation of African-Americans. I believe this increase was the primary reason for its repeal, at least in Cincinnati (i.e. the whites didn't want the blacks to be fairly represented on the city council).