Where’s Lauren Maker at a time like this?
Our friend who passed away this summer would find particularly interesting this year’s DFL caucuses and the Ward and City conventions with the wide open field for mayor, several candidates for an open Fifth Ward and at least one challenger in the Fourth Ward. A Northside DFL-er with connections all over town, she was political junkie, a campaign operative, who always participated but not always with the majority.
Political hacks like Lauren may know the players and how to play the game, but the less connected average voter holds the truth. With Minneapolis’ adoption of Ranked Choice Voting, at least in theory, the voter has more say. But does this new method, spell an end to party politics?
It depends. In Ranked Choice Voting there’s only one election, no primary. Voters designate their first choice candidate and also a second and third choice; in a close race, second and third choices are counted until there’s a candidate with a clear majority.
We’ve editorialized over the years about how in the old primary system, particularly in party-designated races, small numbers of people hold big influence. They chose who we’d be picking from. "Focus on delegates" the candidates are still told. "Get people to go to their precinct caucuses and become delegates, who will vote for you."
Being a delegate puts a person in a position to talk one-on-one with more candidates before the average voter does; those seeking endorsement seek them out. At the conventions, if you’re into the intrigue, each can be an exciting while grueling day. Rules committees can, though don’t always, decide beforehand how many ballots will be conducted before declaring "no endorsement," and what percentage of the vote a candidate must have to be endorsed or to be dropped from a subsequent ballot.
Party endorsement generally means money and a place on a "sample ballot" sent to people who, it’s assumed, faithfully vote the party line, or who can’t pay enough attention to decide for themselves. It may mean an influx of campaign workers for the ground game, volunteers often coming from areas where incumbents whose seats are considered safe have lent them to the cause for a door-knocking day or a literature drop.
In recent years, charismatic candidates have bucked this town’s—and this state’s—heavily DFL tradition, either coming up through "third" parties or being comfortable challenging party endorsees. The popular RT Rybak, whose decision not to run again set off this latest flurry, was not always endorsed by or aligned with the local party machine.
Many a candidate has offered himself or herself as the alternative that the party should embrace when it’s clear that the good-ol’-boy or good-ol’-girl wouldn’t rise on their own. It’s hard to both be thoughtful, innovative and specific; and dogmatic enough to be memorable.
For better or worse, many societal factors have eroded the way that things used to get done in the legislative bodies. Call it the smoke-filled room or the old boys club, legislators used to hunker in for the session, eat together, socialize; sometimes it didn’t matter what party you were from, a good statesman found common ground and figured out how to get things done. Now it’s easier than it was then, to go home to family or stay connected to one’s interests. Through internet, phones and texts, it may be easier to engage in the world, but it’s also easier to stay boxed in the box one came in.
Elections, for decades now, have tested the major-party system. In Minneapolis the voters voted for Ranked Choice Voting. Is it the death of the party system? It depends on thoughtful people having enough faith to make those party endorsements mean enough to the voters —by seeking endorsement. And it depends on party operatives having the good sense to cultivate thoughtful people and getting behind those who truly are both the best and most electable. That’s a year-round, multi-year task, always has been.
The party system, and potential voters, would do well to screen people for how they play with others, as well as for their stands on issues. Statesmanship may come with age and incumbency, but it can also be spotted in youth.
We predict that voters will still see two kinds of people emerge through the Ranked Choice Voting system—those who are in it for the long haul from the moment they announce, and those who "abide by the endorsement," drop out and "wait their turn." Elected officials need to both get elected and get something done in order to get re-elected; different skill sets perhaps.
Over the decades, candidates and their handlers learned how to "work" the primary/general election system. If they lost the endorsement, they could appeal to the voters directly and run in the primary, and, if they won a partisan primary, they would be the party’s nominee. Now, everybody has only one chance, and they sink or swim with one election. It remains to be seen how today’s and tomorrow’s political operatives will learn and work the RCV system. Will the tried and true methods continue to work, with yesterday’s experts becoming tomorrow’s experts, or will new methods and experts emerge?