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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Ranked Choice Voting a Clear Winner in St. Paul Elections

Nov. 9, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ranked Choice Voting a Clear Winner in St. Paul Elections

Voter outreach, clear ballot yield positive experience in wards where RV is used

ST. PAUL – One big winner in St. Paul’s city council elections Tuesday: Ranked Choice Voting. Voting reform supporters across Minnesota are elated that the new system’s rollout in St. Paul was the clear success we anticipated, thanks to a comprehensive voter education campaign conducted by FairVote MN and Ramsey County, a well-designed ballot and the system’s inherent ease of use.

“The news today is that there is no news,” Joe Mansky, Ramsey County election manager, told a Pioneer Press reporter. As Ward 3 election judge Robert Mooney said in the same article, the change “hasn’t been controversial or confusing.”

In FairVote Minnesota’s informal exit polling of nearly 200 voters in wards 1, 2 and 3, voters expressed almost uniform ease of use with the new system and most desired to continue using it. “It’s simple,” “It’s straightforward,” “I like it – if my first choice doesn’t make it, I have a backup choice,” “I heard little negativity,” and “It’s high time this was implemented!” were typical comments about the ranked ballot. Early reviews of the ballots from the city show few spoiled ballots.

In wards with competitive, multicandidate races – where voters felt their backup choices could make the difference – voters overwhelmingly exercised the option to rank candidates. In Ward 2’s close contest between incumbent Dave Thune and challengers Jim Ivey and Bill Hosko, a full 72 percent of voters cast a second-choice vote. Forty percent cast a third-choice vote, 16 percent cast a fourth-choice vote and 10 percent cast a fifth-choice vote.  In Wards 1 and 2, where results were decisive in the first round of counting and second choices didn’t come into play, most voters still used their rankings: In Ward 1, 54 percent of voters marked a second choice and 27 marked a third choice; in Ward 3, 62 percent marked a second choice and 30 percent marked a third choice. This demonstrated that the more competitive the race (i.e., the smaller the percentage of votes for the winner or the top candidate in round 1), the more voters ranked.

In Ward 2, the contest between Thune, Ivey and Hosko will be decided Monday, when a manual count will be undertaken at Ramsey County Elections Division (90 W. Plato Blvd, St. Paul). The count will begin at 8:30 am and is open to the public.

Ballots in that race will be counted in rounds, with the lowest vote-getters eliminated and their votes redistributed to remaining candidates until one has a majority – or until two candidates remain, and the one with the largest number of votes wins. Presently, Dave Thune leads in round 1, 12 percentage points ahead of second-place finisher Ivey. Ivey leads third-place finisher Hosko by just 57 votes.

Ivey garnered the largest share (33 percent) of second-choice votes, with Thune and Hosko receiving 25 percent and 23 percent respectively. Ballots of the two eliminated candidates, Sharon Anderson and Cynthia Schanno, plus write-in ballots, will be redistributed to Thune, Ivey and Hosko based on those voters’ second choices.

Should Hosko advance, the winner will depend on the second choices on Ivey's ballots (and potentially the third or additional choices on the ballots of the already eliminated candidates). If Ivey advances, the winner will depend on the second choices on Hosko's ballots (and potentially the third or additional choices on the ballots of the already eliminated candidates).

Thune’s large initial lead will not be easily surpassed; however, either Ivey’s or Hosko’s final totals could potentially exceed Thune’s in the final round. Ivey’s large share of second-choice votes is an advantage should he advance over Hosko.

Voter turnout was roughly equivalent to general election turnout in past council elections, there was an increase the number of voters this year in Wards 2 and 3, where the races were most competitive. And, more importantly, the move to RCV increased voter participation overall by eliminating the costly, low-turnout primary and rolling two rounds into one higher-turnout, more diverse general election. Essentially, more St. Paulites had a hand in the “winnowing” process and the final selection of the winner. (In Portland, Maine, which just implemented RCV and had a highly competitive citywide mayoral race, turnout exceeded expectations.)

FairVote Minnesota congratulates yesterday’s winners and all candidates who ran for the first time under RCV. The absence of confusion or difficulty, the fact that voters in wards with competitive multicandidate races chose to rank their choices, and the widespread positive feedback from voters in those wards all attest to the transition’s success – and the effectiveness of the voter education campaign.

While many of RCV’s benefits were already shown in Tuesday’s results, some will materialize over time. But the triumph of voting reform in St. Paul is cause for celebration, and we’re confident that more cities across Minnesota will embrace RCV – a political innovation that fosters competition, increases voter participation, encourages positive campaigning and eliminates worries about “spoilers” and “wasted votes” in municipal elections. 

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