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Minneapolis residents got a cold dose of the reality of ranked-choice voting Thursday, as the excitement they felt about picking first, second and third choices for mayor on Tuesday gave way to the tedium of tallying those votes in the hours and days since.
At 10:14 p.m. Thursday — more than 50 hours after the polls closed — officials finally confirmed that Betsy Hodges had been elected the next mayor of Minneapolis. It was an anticlimactic conclusion to a process carried out publicly, and in excruciating detail, over the course of three days of counting.
Here was one round: Eight votes to Hodges, who had led since the first night. Eight for Mark Andrew, who never budged from his spot as a distant second. Meanwhile, political newcomer Cam Winton got 57 votes, and perennial candidate Ole Savior got 38 and stayed in the race for another round, even though he had no statistical chance of winning.
So it went Thursday, over and over again, taxing the patience of voters and candidates alike.
“We’ve got to have results,” said Jim Miller, a voter in the 13th Ward, where the results of a hotly contested City Council race was on hold until the mayoral results were official. “We can’t sit here like this, like a bunch of ninnies.”
This year marked the first big test of ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis, which accounts for voters’ second and third preferences in determining a winner. Ranked-choice voting is used in only two larger U.S. cities, and because of the sheer number of candidates in Minneapolis — 35 — city officials took pains to note results would not be known until Wednesday night.
But Thursday morning the count continued, and City Clerk Casey Carl found himself sparring with frustrated reporters in City Hall about the delay in the final results. “When are we gonna have it? When are we gonna have it?” Carl said of the questions. “There’s an expectation that before I go to bed the night of the election, we have it.”
A faster way?
As Carl spoke, a nearby television carried a live feed from the City Hall basement, where two election workers were using a spreadsheet to reallocate votes.
That low-tech, labor intensive process has generated a host of questions from candidates, election observers and amateur mathematicians alike.
Why couldn’t the city eliminate all of the lowest polling candidates who didn’t have a mathematical chance of winning?
Answer: Because city ordinance allows for the elimination of only candidates who have no chance of moving up even one spot in the rankings. Many of the 34 losing candidates were separated by a small number of votes.
“The spread between the candidates at the bottom didn’t exist,” said FairVote Minnesota’s Jeanne Massey, who supports changing the language to eliminate candidates who can’t mathematically win. “You can’t do mathematical elimination unless there’s a spread.”
Why couldn’t the city use a script or another software program that would quickly sort and reallocate votes?
Answer: Because no software has been certified by state and federal government to perform such a tally. Plus, the hardware arrived only this summer, and obtaining certification is a murky process.
Council Member Cam Gordon, chairman of the city’s election committee, said he regrets assuring voters that an official winner would be declared by Wednesday. “I think that’s the major problem right now is we weren’t clear about expectations,” Gordon said.
He added that the mix-up may have been because they did not practice with a scenario where so many candidates received so few votes.
Council candidates in limbo
On top of the slow pace of the mayoral counting, several council candidates who waged monthslong campaigns to win open seats remained up in the air as their too-close-to-call races took a back seat to mayoral tabulations. With those done, election staffers will return to work at 8 a.m. Friday to tackle the other races.
In southwest Minneapolis, fewer than 400 votes separated top candidates Linea Palmisano and Matt Perry. Other candidates in the race won 984 and 746 votes, meaning second-choice votes could easily erase Palmisano’s slim first-round lead.
On Thursday, Palmisano spent some time writing thank-you notes to last-minute donors and picking up lawn signs from across the ward.
“People find that a little strange, that the candidate is in their yard picking up their lawn signs,” Palmisano said. “But what else can I do?”
Palmisano, who left her job at UnitedHealth Group to campaign full time, has had to walk back friends and supporters who have congratulated her.
“We’ve all taken a lot of big tests in our life where we don’t get immediate results,” she said. “Yet for some reason, with elections and how they’ve been all of our lives, we kind of expect some kind of immediacy that isn’t here yet.”
In the Ninth Ward council race, Socialist Alternative candidate Ty Moore was a close runner-up to DFL-endorsed Alondra Cano, though it was not yet clear whether a counting of second- and third-place votes would move him up.
Moore braced himself for the prospect of losing, but he vowed to continue fighting for the issues he highlighted during the campaign, including a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a moratorium on foreclosures.
On Thursday, Moore and two campaign workers holed up in a back booth at the Bad Waitress in south Minneapolis with their laptops for hours to discuss their next moves. They’ve speculated on their chances of winning, but ultimately, according to Moore, it’s hard to tell.
In the North Side’s Fifth Ward, Ian Alexander has already called presumed front-runner Blong Yang to say he ran a good race and that if the numbers worked out as expected, he would support Yang.
Since then, he’s been going over his personal and campaign finances, taking a nap and calling supporters. Alexander is anticipating going back to work as an attorney and eating a more varied diet than ramen noodles.
“I won’t say we’ve completely written it off — we accepted that there’s a 75 percent chance that we will not be winning,” Alexander said.
Miller, a retiree, said there’s a lot of anger about the way the city is handling the votes.
“I think one of the big reasons for people not voting was the system itself,” he said.