What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Ordinance, certification delay counting process

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: November 7, 2013 - 5:12 PM

The process of counting votes in the Minneapolis mayoral race is taking longer than expected largely because of a poorly worded ordinance and lack of time to certify better counting software.

Entering day two of the counting at City Hall, some have watched with bewilderment as tabulators (right) manually manipulate numbers in Excel in the basement of City Hall -- viewable only on a TV screen in the building's rotunda.

A city press release on Election Day said that "elections officials plan to complete tabulation and declare a winner in the mayor’s race on Wednesday, Nov. 6." But it's taken longer than expected largely because "batch elimination" turned out to be impossible, based on the results.

"I think that's the major problem right now is we weren't clear about expectations," said Council Member Cam Gordon, chair of the city's election committee. "And I'll say we, not they, because I also told people 'by the end of Wednesday.'"

Batch elimination would have nixed candidates with no mathematical chance of winning. But as MinnPost's Joel Kramer (former Star Tribune editor/publisher) notes, the ordinance actually only allows elimination of candidates who have no chance of moving up one spot in the rankings. That hasn't happened, since the many losing candidates are only seperated 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.”

Gordon said he is open to re-evaluating the ordinance that spells out the process. He added that the expectations mix-up may have been because they did not practice with a scenario where so many candidates received so few votes.

Then there is the question as to why counters are manually cutting and pasting in Excel, rather than using a script or other software to reallocate the votes automatically. Such a script would likely need to be certified by state or federal authorities, and Gordon and Massey said the equipment arrived too late (this summer) to go through that process.

“If the city began sooner than it did to really get the equipment in place, perhaps we would have seen the tabulation software built in at this juncture," Massey said, noting that the elections department was instead bogged down in recounts in recent years.

In addition to the mayor's race, three city council races hang in the balance. Two of those remain entirely unclear, while one North Side candidate has a stronger lead over his opponents.

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