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Iowa: Change your ballots, not your clocks
In Cedar Rapids, advocates for ranked choice voting hope to emulate the legislative strategy used by daylight saving time reformers
What do runoff elections and daylight saving time have in common?
For one thing, they’re both outdated and annoying practices, at least in my view. And there is another commonality here about the way reformers are addressing these seemingly disparate topics.
The federal government regulates the time and states are subject to it. Similarly, state governments set election rules and local governments have to follow suit. The lower governments are getting creative in their efforts to nudge the higher governments into allowing changes.
Iowa legislators this year are advancing a bill that would end the biannual time switch in favor of year-round daylight saving time. If it earns final approval from the Iowa Legislature, it would only take effect after federal legislation authorizes states to adopt daylight saving time.
Supporters estimate implementing ranked choice in Cedar Rapids would only cost around $20,000, less than the cost of a single runoff election.
States have been considering and passing such legislation for years and the federal government is now responding. The U.S. Senate this week passed the Sunshine Protection Act to make daylight saving time permanent. It would need approval from the U.S. House and the president before becoming law.
Advocates for alternative voting methods hope to emulate that strategy in Iowa.
Better Ballot Iowa is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization educating Iowans about ranked choice voting. It’s a different type of election that ought to replace the clunky runoff elections like the ones Cedar Rapids holds.
Policy brief: Ranked choice... by Sullivan_AB
In a ranked choice election, voters rank candidates on a single ballot in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of first-preference votes, the bottom candidate is dropped and the counting repeats until one candidate tops 50 percent. It negates the need for an expensive runoff election, like Cedar Rapids held for mayor last year resulting in the top candidate in the first election predictably winning the second one.
Cedar Rapids right now is undergoing a decennial review of the city charter, the document that establishes rules for city government, including the election format. While attorneys say cities in Iowa don’t have the authority to implement ranked choice voting on their own, Cedar Rapids could take up “trigger” language to say the city will adopt the model if and when it becomes available under state law — similar to what legislators have done with daylight saving time.
Cities in other states already are taking this approach. Just within the past year or so, Hoboken, N.J. and Burlington, Vt. adopted measures to employ the system, contingent on state approval.
Linn County uses vote tallying equipment that is compatible with ranked choice voting, according to a fact sheet compiled by Better Ballot Iowa. They’re the same machines used in Minneapolis, where ranked choice has been in place for more than a decade. Supporters estimate implementing ranked choice in Cedar Rapids would only cost around $20,000, less than the cost of a single runoff election.
Putting a trigger provision in the Cedar Rapids city charter would be the biggest accomplishment to date for the fledgling ranked choice voting movement in Iowa. It would send a strong message to lawmakers that constituents in the state’s second-largest city are eager for a better way to cast ballots.
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