Minneapolis ranked-choice voting gets a workout; poll officials report no major problems

Voters cast their ballots at the Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

Results from Election Day are coming into focus — Betsy Hodges holds a commanding lead in the Minneapolis mayor’s race — and so is the reaction to ranked-choice voting.

About 40 percent of voters went to the polls in Minneapolis. City election officials say that’s more than the last two mayoral elections, and on par with the 2001 race when R.T. Rybak was first elected. There were no major problems at the polls, and voters appeared undaunted by ranked-choice voting and the long ballot.

All it takes to run for mayor in Minneapolis is an Andrew Jackson and your John Hancock — 20 bucks and sign on the line and you’re in. Thirty-five people did just that. Add in council and park board races, and voters were looking at a ballot the size of a diner’s placemat.

But many Minneapolis residents who came out to vote said they weren’t daunted by the supersize ballot — or the fact that they could pick three candidates with ranked choice voting.

In north Minneapolis, voter Tahiti Robinson, 73, said ranked choice voting wasn’t difficult — follow the directions.

“You have to really read. Read what it says in the beginning. That’s the key. I know some people had trouble doing it, but it was easy,” she said.

Minneapolis used ranked-choice voting once before in a mayoral election. But in that 2009 race, Rybak was so popular that voters’ second and third choices didn’t need to be counted: He took nearly 74 percent of the vote that year, and turnout was a low 20 percent. Rybak didn’t run for re-election this time, and a mid-September Star Tribune poll showed no clear frontrunner.

Besides reading the ballot instructions and learning about ranked choice voting, city voters also had to do a bit of homework. Luke Toft voted yesterday at the Bakken Museum near Lake Calhoun. He says he leans conservative, so he put Cam Winton down as his first choice. Toft says YouTube videos and other information on the Internet make it easy to learn about the candidates and their positions.

“Nowadays you can go online and get a synopsis of each one. And if you look at the 35, for me in particular, I could eliminate half right out of the gate, and maybe hone in on seven or eight. And so that wasn’t too cumbersome for me,” he said.

Not everyone found ranked-choice voting to be simple. In the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood near downtown, Mohamed Ali came to the Brian Coyle Community Center to cast a ballot before heading in to work. Ali said he doesn’t like ranked-choice voting.

“The ballot is a little bit confusing — the ranked choice. I prefer the old system where you can just easily identify. For instance, there was Mark Andrew and Mark Anderson. So if somebody is voting for one of the Marks, they’ll get confused,” he said, adding that he voted for Mark Andrew in the mayor’s race, but didn’t make a second or third choice.

As for the running of the election itself, Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl says that, except for some early trouble with the election judges’ phone system, there were no major technological or logistical problems yesterday.

“We’ve had some little tiny blips on the radar here and there, but they were quickly solved, and back to business. So nothing that has raised the attention of a problem that might create difficulties for us counting ballots or anything.”

Since no mayoral candidate got 50 percent of the vote yesterday, Carl says voters’ other choices will be counted. He says tabulation will start Wednesday afternoon, and we could learn the name of the next Minneapolis mayor tonight.