Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fairvote MN statement on Minneapolis RCV Election Cost Report

Minneapolis Introduction of RCV Pegged at $365,000

1/3 of amount attributed to one-time start-up costs

Further cost efficiencies expected in future elections as RCV-capable machines become available

A new report by Minneapolis Interim Elections Director Ginny Gelms concludes that costs associated with the city’s 2009 switch to Ranked Choice Voting were approximately $365,000. Of the total cost, slightly more than a third encompassed one-time expenditures that will not be required in subsequent elections. The report also noted that additional cost-efficiencies are expected as voting equipment is put in place and voters and election judges become increasingly familiar with the system. “Process improvements implemented from lessons learned in 2009 will likely make for a more efficient process . . . which will impact the overall cost,” Gelms wrote.

The first RCV election in Minneapolis last November proved highly successful, with 95 percent of voters polled calling it easy to use. Former Minneapolis Interim Elections Director Patrick O’Connor who oversaw the implementation of the new system, says “we proved that it could be well administered, quickly and accurately counted, and that voters had little problem with the concept.”

The April 26 report noted that Minneapolis’ 2009 municipal election cost $1.47 million, an increase over the $1.13 million spent in 2005 (adjusting for inflation). The hand count in the 2009 election represented the largest portion of RCV-specific expenses.

Should a hand count be needed in the next election, however, the city can consider other options for cost savings such as removing the requirement to record the names of all write-ins (as former Minneapolis Elections Director Pat O’Connor has recommended).

The report also indicated that if RCV-capable voting equipment was available in the next election to tally the ballots, costs would be reduced by more than half. Gelms has said that such equipment may be available within the next three years; the city is working closely with Hennepin County to have RCV-ready voting machines in place by the 2013 election. Such machines are currently used in San Francisco; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and will be used in upcoming November elections in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, California.

The highly effective voter education effort leading up to the 2009 election was the other major RCV-related outlay, accounting for 30 percent of RCV costs. The effectiveness of the effort can be seen in the facts that 95 percent of voters found the new election process easy to use and that the entire election produced just one defective ballot among 45,968 cast. These results illustrate the importance of voter outreach and education, efforts which council member Robert Lilligren says should be a priority – to improve voter familiarity with city elections and promote turnout – regardless of whether RCV is used.

The city’s 2013 projections assume a continued strong investment in voter outreach, which FairVote Minnesota supports. Even so, RCV experiences in other cities, such as San Francisco, suggest that “earned media” coverage in newspaper, radio, and online news outlets can help defray future costs here as well.

It’s worth noting that the report only looked ahead one election cycle and as such didn’t address the potential savings achievable over the long run through the elimination of the primary in combination with the use of machines and reduced voter educational costs.

The move to RCV was led by FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit organization working to enhance democracy through advocacy and public education.

Featured Quote: Former city elections director Patrick O'Connor, who oversaw implementation of IRV in Minneapolis in 2009: "I have had the great fortune to be a small part of what could easily be considered the most significant civic exercise in the history of Minnesota government: the implementation of the first Ranked Choice Voting election in Minneapolis and in Minnesota. We proved that it could be well administered, quickly and accurately counted, and that voters had little problem with the concept."