What to expect from this year’s RCV elections in Minnesota

Published on October 29, 2021

October 29, 2021


To: Media and Other Interested Parties

From: Jeanne Massey, FairVote MN Executive Director

Re: What to Expect from the 2021 Ranked-Choice Elections in Minnesota


This memorandum is the third and final in our series to educate the media, candidates and other interested parties on Ranked Choice Voting elections in Minnesota this fall. You can access our first two media memos covering how RCV works, FairVote MN’s education efforts, Minnesota’s experience with RCV, and how RCV impacts local elections here.

This year Bloomington, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, and St. Paul are using RCV for their municipal elections. Never before have we had five Minnesota cities – representing 16% of Minnesota voters – conducting ranked-choice elections at the same time!


RCV Requires a Broad Majority Coalition


How RCV works


Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference and ensures winners with the highest support possible in a single, decisive and cost-effective election. In ranked-choice elections, voters rank as many or as few candidates as they like from their favorite to least favorite: first choice, second choice, and so on.

In a single-seat election, if a candidate receives a majority (50% + 1) of first-choice rankings, that candidate wins. However, if no candidate receives a majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and these ballots now count for those voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority or the winning threshold and wins.

For municipal elections this fall, St. Paul and Bloomington allow voters to rank up to six choices while Minneapolis, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park allow voters to rank up to three choices. For more information about local RCV elections see rankyourvote.org and the city election websites. In addition to information about local elections, including ballot questions and school board elections, all of the cities have great resources about RCV and how it works on their websites:


To win under RCV, candidates should be striving to build broad coalitions of support. 


In a single-seat race, winning candidates need to earn a majority (50% + 1) of continuing ballots in the final round. In multi-seat elections, winning candidates need to earn the required threshold depending on how many seats there are (25% + 1 in a 3-seat race; 33% + 1 in a 2-seat race). 

Unlike a traditional plurality election, candidates who focus solely on their core supporters are unlikely to win under RCV. Of course, candidates should earn as many first choice votes as possible from their base, but they also need to go beyond that base and earn second and later choice votes to reach the winning threshold. Accordingly, candidates should be reaching out to as many voters and communities of voters as possible, and appealing to the issues that matter to a broad majority of voters. For the same reason, attacking your opponents can backfire since that may alienate that opponents’ core supporters, and you are unlikely to earn those second or third choice votes. In short, building a broad coalition of voters is the way to win a ranked-choice election.


Where RCV does not come into play


Note that there are several items on the ballot where RCV does not come into play. First, in Bloomington, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, and St. Paul, voters will be selecting school board members, and those elections do not use RCV; they use traditional plurality at-large voting. School boards are statutory jurisdictions subject to state law on elections, unlike charter cities that have permission to adopt RCV through a charter amendment process. 

Second, there are some races that are not competitive or have fewer than three candidates on the ballot. In races with only two candidates, while RCV is technically available, it effectively runs and acts more like a traditional campaign since there are, effectively, only two viable choices. Consequently, you are more likely to see the typical negative campaigning that you have with a traditional election and a binary choice. Ranking kicks in when there are three or more candidates on the ballot. 

Finally, voters in some cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, have ballot measures to consider. RCV is not used for ballot measures; voters either vote yes or no. A local ballot question to amend a city’s charter needs at least 51% YES votes to pass. 


When to Expect Election Results


The announcement of election results will depend on the city and the number of races that require RCV tabulation. 

For all cities, in races where a candidate reaches a majority or the winning threshold with first-choice votes on Election Day, officials will announce those candidates as unofficial winners on election night. This timing is no different than any other election. 

Races where no candidate reaches a majority or the winning threshold on Election Day, however, will require additional rounds of tabulation. Since automated software used in other jurisdictions has not yet been approved for Minnesota, each city will use a manual tabulation process. In Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, and Minnetonka, the cities will use the same process that Minneapolis and St. Louis Park have used for several election cycles — a spreadsheet-assisted manual tabulation using the cast vote record (a record of all voters’ rankings). There will not be a hand count of the ballots. Bloomington and St. Paul, in contrast, will conduct a hand count of the ballots, and that process will begin on Thursday, November 4. This process is open to the public. Both tabulation approaches are highly transparent and accurate. 


Anticipated (unofficial) RCV election results:


Minneapolis: Next day, Nov. 3

St. Louis Park: Next day, Nov. 3

Minnetonka: Next day, Nov. 3

Bloomington: Thursday, Nov. 4 or later

St. Paul: Friday, Nov. 5

All results can be found on the cities’ websites noted above or on the Secretary of State’s website. Canvassing boards will meet in most cities the following week to certify the official results.


How to Understand Election Day (First Round) Results


Election night results will report the first choice, second choice, and additional choice votes  each candidate received. However, unless a candidate has reached a majority or the winning threshold, final RCV results – and winning candidates – cannot be interpreted from these vote tallies, and we caution the media, campaigns and supporters from drawing any conclusions from these initial election night reports. Results are determined by the RCV tabulation process and reallocation of ballots from eliminated candidates, not by how many second choice or third choice votes a candidate received in the first round. For example, if a candidate does not receive enough first choices to remain viable and is eliminated, it doesn’t matter if that candidate received a lot of second choice support. Likewise, a candidate who receives a lot of first choices but not as many second and additional choices may go on to win if enough second and additional choices from eliminated candidates go their way. Just knowing how many second and third choices is insufficient to know the winner. 

Election results will also report the candidates’ first and later choice votes as a percentage of initial ballots cast. As rounds of tabulation occur, some ballots are exhausted and do not continue to the next round if the voter did not express a preference for any candidates remaining on the ballot. Ballot exhaustion is normal and can occur when voters choose to vote for only one or two choices. If their candidate or candidates are eliminated in the runoff process, their ballot no longer continues to count toward the winner. The winning candidate (in a single-seat race) will always have a majority of ballots continuing in the final round. For more information about the Minneapolis RCV tabulation process see the city’s election website on RCV.

Regardless of the ultimate winner for offices in all five cities, the value of RCV is that it encourages a diverse slate of candidates to run, and requires candidates to build broad majority coalitions of support to win and be responsive to that broad coalition once in office. So RCV not only changes the dynamics of the campaign but should also influence how city leaders govern. RCV gives more power to voters to select candidates who align with their issues and their values, and voters are adept at deciding those rankings. Ranked-choice elections give more power to the voter to decide the future of their city, and that’s exactly where the power should reside.

For questions or interviews, contact Jeanne Massey (Jeanne.Massey@fairvotemn.org; 612-850-6897) or Erin Zamoff (Erin.Zamoff@fairvotemn.org; 952-334-8313). We will be providing election results analysis in the days following the election.

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