Slow progress in count of Mpls mayoral election

After Minneapolis elections officials spent several hours tabulating ranked-choice ballots in the mayor’s race, City Council Member Betsy Hodges gained 32 votes to lead the race at 28,994. But Hodges, who is trailed by former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, City Council Member Don Samuels and 32 others, needs 39,708 to win outright.

She would also win if she’s still leading when there are only two candidates left.

Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl said the process was so slow partly due to the fact that election workers were tabulating the vote using Microsoft Excel. They had to deal with 80,101 lines in the spreadsheet, each representing a voter’s choice in what Carl described as a “quasi-hand process.”

As a result, after six hours election officials had only eliminated the three lowest-scoring candidates and a column of write-in candidates. That meant officials had reallocated the the first choice-votes of just 252 voters to their second choice-candidates.

“The lowest is defeated, we go back and find their second choice ranks, then those are reallocated,” Carl said. “The number isn’t changing, it’s just shifting as it goes from one candidate to the next as each candidate is eliminated.”

Carl said no automated system is available to count up ranked-choice ballots.

The elimination of candidates also moved slowly. Election officials had to eliminate only one candidate in each of the early rounds because the gap was so small between the lowest-earning candidates.

“It’s possible that the total number  of votes for the lowest vote getter, if those had all gone to the second lowest, they would have actually had more votes than the third lowest,” Carl said. “We couldn’t eliminate them, we had to let that process go through naturally and do the one-by-one elimination.”

As the gap between candidates increases as officials move towards candidates with the most votes, it may allow officials to make batch eliminations of lowest scoring candidates.

As of 6.p.m, elections officials had eliminated 118 write-ins votes for unqualified candidates. They also eliminated from consideration John Charles Wilson, Cyd Gorman and Bob “Again” Carney Jr. Officials reallocated their votes to voters’ second choices.

Carl said election tabulators will continue working on the mayoral race until midnight if necessary. They will resume work Thursday if they don’t finish. City officials have said they expect to finish tabulating ranked-choice votes in all the undecided City Council and other city races by Friday.

Upstairs at Minneapolis City Hall, the Minneapolis Charter Commission approved a proposal that would increase the filing fee for some city offices from $20. Its members are proposing that the mayoral filing fee increase to $500, the City Council fee to $250 and the fee to run for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Board of Estimation and Taxation increase to $100.

The proposal may reduce the amount of candidates who participate in the ranked-choice elections.

Carl said the proposal will head to the City Council, which can add it to the city’s charter if council members approve it unanimously and it’s approved by the mayor. If there isn’t unanimous support for the proposal on the council, voters will need to approve it as a ballot question.

Roann Cramer, vice chair of Minneapolis DFL and a board member of Fair Vote Minnesota, which pushed ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis and other cities, said she was very pleased with how ranked-choice voting had proceeded this election. But she said the system could still be tweaked.

“What we’re seeing right now is that without software that supports it, that we still have some improvement in how we actually get through the ranking and reallocation process,” Cramer said.

The candidates were running to succeed Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who chose not to seek a fourth term.

  • Ma Barker

    Why is this happening at such a glacial pace? Global warming will have turned MN into Palm Springs before they get to round 35 and declare a winner.

    Not to blame MS Excel (a fine product for smaller projects) but considering the vast sums they have take in property taxes each year, couldn’t they invest in a more advanced tool??? I really don’t understand this…they have automatic vote counting machines in all the precincts…can’t those be interfaced with the Fancy-Dan, high-test Excel program to speed up the process?

    And maybe they could have started the count before mid afternoon the day after the election.

  • bsimon

    While a spreadsheet is a powerful & useful tool, it is the wrong tool for this job. Good grief.

    • Pherdnut

      But you have to say why or there’s really no point. I’m pretty weak at excel but I’m a !@#$ing programmer and I have no idea why this should be hard. Nor why I couldn’t just use Excel to solve it. If the rules are easy enough to read and understand there’s nothing Excel should be able to handle in terms of tallying up counts per category per voter.

  • Sedhead

    Could have paid a computer science student for a couple days consulting work to write the code to do this even IN Excel. Yikes….

    • once a CS student

      Yep. Even Excel should be able to do this in a matter of seconds. Sure, you need to be careful with such things, but we’re talking about a very small amount of code to test/review. Does our government have no programmers whatsoever?

    • Matt

      I was thinking the exact same thing – happy I’m not the only one. I only dabble in programming, and this strikes me as a very simple problem to code. In fact, it and related problems have been solved many times over by researchers working on voting systems.

  • stillmn

    Learn more about state statute and then ask the why-can’t-they-just-use-computers question again.

    • Matt

      Could you educate us about state statute then? I’m pretty sure most elections use computers, cause they’re not actually counting hundreds of thousands of votes by hand. What exactly says they can’t write a program to do this?

    • Matt

      Statute 206.57? I find it hard to believe that a “quasi-hand process” in Excel has been certified (though perhaps Excel itself has been), or that such a simple bit of code would be difficult to get certified.

    • a computer user

      Okay, thank you, but I’d like to suggest that it would be nice if this news station would try to explain it from time to time. It has been a bit like hearing this report once an hour for days: “I-94 remains closed down, as hundreds of workers use tablespoons to replace several thousand square meters of concrete. It is very time consuming. I don’t see what more you could possibly need to know about that.”

    • Pherdnut

      It’s been a few years but that sounds like the start of a Minneapolis conversation if I ever heard one. What could possibly be so confusing about a process that originated as a by-hand sort of thing that using excel couldn’t handle it? Also, shouldn’t they be counting by hand AND using stuff like excel? At the end of the day there should be somebody at the most bare-bones level verifying that the technology isn’t way off in case somebody tries to diebold-mitize the whole affair.

  • Reggie

    But wait, how can this be? Ranked choice voting saves us money. It’s true the nice people from Fair Vote told me so.