Original Publication

  

Minneapolis hits record for turnout in a municipal election, with 54% of voters casting ballots

More Minneapolis voters cast bal­lots in Tues­day’s e­lec­tion than any oth­er mu­nic­i­pal e­lec­tion in re­cent his­to­ry.

The e­lec­tion drew a 54% turn­out of el­i­gi­ble voters — the most for a city-only e­lec­tion in more than four de­cades, smash­ing the 1997 re­cord of 46.5%.

“Every vot­er felt like their vote count­ed, and in­deed it did,” said Jeanne Mas­sey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of FairVote Minnesota, a ranked-voting ad­vo­ca­cy group. “It’s a pret­ty phe­nom­e­nal turn­out.”

It was Minneapolis’ fourth city­wide e­lec­tion with ranked-choice voting, which start­ed in 2009. It’s also the third con­sec­u­tive mu­nic­i­pal e­lec­tion where turn­out in­creased.

In every race, the can­di­date who won the most first-choice votes also won — ex­cept in one case. Voters elect­ed six dis­trict com­mis­sion­ers on the nine-mem­ber Park and Rec­re­a­tion Board, and in District 6, Risa Hustad had more first-choice votes than Cath­y Abene, but Abene ul­ti­mate­ly won.

Can­di­date Barb Schlaefer was el­imi­nat­ed from the race be­cause she had the few­est first-choice votes and her sup­port­ers’ se­cond-choice votes large­ly went to Abene and can­di­date Bob Fine. Hustad was el­imi­nat­ed in the third round. Hustad’s sup­port­ers’ choi­ces were re­dis­trib­ut­ed and gave Abene the win.

It’s only the third time in Minneapolis that some­one lead­ing with the most first-choice bal­lots didn’t win.

“We saw it play out I think just the way ranked-choice voting is sup­posed to play out,” Mas­sey said. “Voters ex­press­ed their pre­fer­ences. Not every win­ner is a win­ner out­right. That’s why we do runoffs is to make sure that the ma­jor­i­ty voice pre­vails in that proc­ess.”

She lik­ened it to pri­ma­ries, where one can­di­date gets more votes than the se­cond-place fin­ish­er and they both go on to the gen­er­al e­lec­tion, where the can­di­date with fewer votes in the pri­mary could still win.

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank can­di­dates and if a can­di­date doesn’t re­ceive more than 50% of the vote in a sin­gle-seat e­lec­tion, the proc­ess moves to a se­cond round. Then, the can­di­date with the few­est first-choice votes is el­imi­nat­ed along with can­di­dates with no math­emati­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty of win­ning.

Of­fi­cials can e­lim­i­nate can­di­dates in batch­es in­stead of one at a time if there’s no math­emati­cal chance of them win­ning. For those el­imi­nat­ed, their sup­port­ers’ se­cond-choice votes are re­dis­trib­ut­ed to re­main­ing can­di­dates, and the proc­ess con­tinues un­til a can­di­date gets a ma­jor­i­ty of votes. If only two can­di­dates are left, the one a­head is elect­ed, even if they didn’t hit the 50% thresh­old due to the num­ber of “ex­haust­ed” bal­lots, such as voters who didn’t rank se­cond and third choi­ces or their first, se­cond and third choi­ces didn’t make the cut.

In 2017, Fourth Ward City Council in­cum­bent Barb Johnson had more first-choice votes than Phil­lipe Cun­ning­ham while Gin­ger Jentzen was a­head of Steve Fletch­er in the Third Ward race. In both cases, the se­cond or third choi­ces af­ter can­di­dates were el­imi­nat­ed pro­pelled Cun­ning­ham and Fletch­er to vic­to­ry.

“It proves the con­cept to some de­gree that peo­ple can be elect­ed on the strength of se­cond- and third-choice votes,” said Aaron Gross­man, the city’s su­per­vi­sor of e­lec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion. “It emphasizes the fact that voters have more of a voice when they can rank up to three choi­ces. … We have more in­for­ma­tion about what voters are think­ing and what they’d pre­fer.”

The e­lec­tion to fill three at-large Park and Rec­re­a­tion Board spots re­quired seven rounds of tab­u­la­tion be­cause the race had seven can­di­dates and to­tals were close. Of­fi­cials could e­lim­i­nate only one can­di­date at a time in­stead of multi­ple can­di­dates who math­e­mat­i­cal­ly couldn’t reach the thresh­old to win.

The may­or’s race re­quired three rounds of tab­u­la­tion to get a fi­nal win­ner com­pared with five rounds in 2017.

In the Se­cond Ward City Council race, Robin Wonsley Worlobah beat Yusra Arab by 19 votes out of the more than 9,000 votes cast in the ward, which in­cludes parts of the Dinkytown, Cedar-Riverside and Longfellow neighborhoods.

Af­ter the first round, Guy Gas­kin and Tom Anderson were el­imi­nat­ed and Arab was lead­ing the race, but once in­cum­bent Cam Gordon was el­imi­nat­ed in the third round, the bulk of his sup­port­ers’ votes went to Worlobah.

Arab gath­ered more total se­cond- and third-choice votes than Worlobah, but if voters who ranked Arab se­cond or third had se­lec­ted Worlobah for their first choice, their votes wouldn’t count for Arab.

“Your pop­u­lar­i­ty in the first round is the most im­port­ant, fol­lowed by how you built a coa­li­tion with peo­ple who are drop­ping from the bal­lot,” Mas­sey said.

Start­ing Fri­day, a los­ing can­di­date in rac­es that re­ceived fewer than 50,000 votes and had 0.5% or less of a mar­gin can re­quest a city-fund­ed re­count. Arab said Fri­day she’s still con­sid­er­ing that.

“It’s con­fus­ing to those of us who ac­tu­al­ly under­stand the sys­tem, so think about all the im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties who don’t speak the lan­guage, don’t com­pre­hend what this is,” Arab said of ranked-choice voting. “I think we still need to do more work in terms of mak­ing sure it’s a fair play for ev­er­y­bod­y and that cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties don’t get dis­cour­aged from this proc­ess be­cause they don’t under­stand this new sys­tem.”

Bloomington, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and St. Paul also used ranked-choice voting — the first year five Minnesota cit­ies used the meth­od at the same time, ac­cord­ing to FairVote Minnesota. Two of the four cit­ies saw turn­out rise from 2017.

“What drives turn­out is what ranked-choice voting fos­ters and that is com­pe­ti­tion, more can­di­dates, more choice,” Mas­sey said. “If it gets down to just be­tween two peo­ple, and the voters think … my vote is not going to mat­ter, they don’t turn out. … Ranked-choice voting is chan­ging the land­scape of how we en­gage in our local demo­crat­ic proc­ess in a bet­ter way.”

Mas­sey said the proc­ess went smooth­ly in all five cit­ies, al­though Bloomington of­fi­cials hand-count­ed bal­lots, delay­ing the call of two coun­cil win­ners.

No auto­mat­ed tab­u­la­tion soft­ware for ranked-choice voting is cer­ti­fied in Minnesota, but of­fi­cials hope it will be avail­able soon, speed­ing up the proc­ess.

In Minneapolis, vot­er turn­out rose in 2013 and 2017, even with­out con­ten­tious bal­lot meas­ures, al­though more voters still turn out for state­wide or pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. In 2020, 81% of Minneapolis voters went to the polls. But with most mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions na­tion­al­ly draw­ing 15 to 20% turn­out, Minneapolis’ 54% turn­out is rare.

“It shows peo­ple are en­gaged with the e­lec­tion proc­ess. … But there’s still 46% out there,” Gross­man said of voters who sat out the e­lec­tion. “It leaves us room for im­prove­ment.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

Kelly Smith covers nonprofits/philanthropy for the Star Tribune and is based in Minneapolis. Since 2010, she’s covered Greater Minnesota on the state/region team, Hennepin County government, west metro suburban government and west metro K-12 education.