Low-key mayoral contest depressed Minneapolis turnout, officials say

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2009 - 9:43 PM

At 20 percent, turnout hit a low not seen since 1902. Results released Wednesday were good for incumbents.

Turnout for Minneapolis elections last week was the lowest since 1902, before women got the vote, according to historical records.

That's the conclusion of Tony Hill, a Minnesotan pursuing a doctorate in political science who has done extensive historical research on Minneapolis politics and government.

In fact, Mayor R.T. Rybak's vote total, although lopsided in comparison to his challengers, ranks as the lowest for a Minneapolis mayor since 1910.

Hill agreed with city election officials in saying that the 20 percent turnout had little to do with the city's new ranked-choice voting system and almost everything to do with the lackluster contest at the top of the ballot. Incumbent Rybak was not seriously challenged by any of his 10 competitors and ran a nearly invisible campaign for mayor.

Hill said he's also concluded that two City Council incumbents have nothing to fear despite not attaining a majority in first-choice votes in the city's new ranked-choice voting regimen. That's because in studying Canadian parliamentary elections, he's not seen a situation where candidates like Barbara Johnson and Don Samuels -- who each drew 47 percent but had a wide gap over the next closest candidates -- wouldn't have won based on second-choice votes.

The city planned to release hand-counted tallies for several wards on Wednesday, but none of them were close enough to require second-choice rankings to settle the winner. The order in which the city is counting wards was determined by the drawing of lots at a pre-election media briefing. Asked why the city didn't count the closest wards first, interim Election Director Patrick O'Connor said election officials prefer to decide matters by lot.

Results released Wednesday showed these winners: Second Ward, Cam Gordon, 84.1 percent; Sixth Ward, Robert Lilligren, 52.9 percent; 11th Ward, John Quincy, 63.6 percent; 12th Ward, Sandra Colvin Roy, 64.3 percent; and 13th Ward, Betsy Hodges, 69.2 percent.

The city has hand-counted more than half of its precincts at a rate faster than anticipated because of the low turnout. But it has yet to complete the verification of results in some wards, which holds up the release of results beyond the raw totals released on election nights.

Unofficially, 45,964 votes were cast for mayor this year, or the lowest since 35,837 were cast in 1902, when the city's population was about 54 percent of its current estimated population. That helped to depress Rybak's vote total to an unofficial 33,220, the lowest since 25,576 people voted for the winner in 1910, according to Hill's research of city records.

A spokesman said that Rybak is proud of his victory and believes it shows confidence in his ability to get things done. "As a democratic community, we should all be disappointed that more people don't vote in local elections, and strive to improve voter turnout in future years," said mayoral spokesman Jeremy Hanson.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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