In November, voters in the St. Paul City Council election will be able to choose up to six candidates per seat, ranked in order of preference. In other words, downtown residents could conceivably vote for all five candidates who have filed to run for office in Ward 2.
Nov. 8 will mark the city’s first experience with the new “ranked voting” system, otherwise known as “instant run-off voting” or “ranked-choice voting,” which was supported by voters in a ballot question last year. As a result, Ramsey County, which is contracted to coordinate the city’s elections, is gearing up for significant changes from politics as usual, and candidates, too, have had to adjust.
For starters, the new system has eliminated political primaries. Votes are tallied on Election Day, and if no candidate has 50 percent of the vote plus one vote, the weakest vote-getter is dropped from the results.
A few days go by to allow county workers to recover polling equipment from throughout St. Paul and suburban polling locations. On Nov. 14, votes cast by the weakest candidate’s supporters are redistributed to their second-choice pick in the second tally.
“We resume counting on the Monday following Election Day,” said Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky. “We put all the ballots on the table. Whoever has the smallest pile, that candidate gets eliminated. We take those ballots and we determine if there is a second-choice vote for one of the remaining candidates….If there is, we put that ballot in the appropriate pile.”
The process continues until a candidate has a simple majority of the original votes cast. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus one, then whoever’s ahead after only two candidates remain is declared the winner.
Jim Ivey, former political chair for the Green Party of Minnesota, said ranked-choice voting has boosted his party’s chances at the polls. He thinks the Green Party will no longer be looked upon as a potential “spoiler” in tight races.
“We worked for years to make this happen,” said Ivey, a Lowertown resident who is running for city council in Ward 2. “The Green Party was a key supporter. It’s strategic for creating a third-party presence in local politics. It gives people a chance to vote for what they really believe in, and know that there’s no risk in doing that….It’s great for us.”