Ranked voting steps forward

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2011 - 5:02 PM

Three St. Paul City Council members face stiff challenges in re-election bids.

The star of the St. Paul City Council elections isn't on the ballot Nov. 8. It is the ballot.

For the first time, city residents will use ranked voting. All seven council seats are up for election to four-year terms. Six races are contested, and the new voting method could play a big role in three of those.

Nobody knows what impact the system will have or whether results will mirror those in Minneapolis, which used the method uneventfully in 2009.

Under the system, voters can rank their candidate choices up to a maximum of six. Lower choices get counted only if no majority -- 50 percent plus one vote -- is reached on the first ballot.

Supporters of ranked voting tout increased turnout and more minority candidates. By that standard, a key success indicator in St. Paul will be whether more than 15 percent -- roughly 30,000 voters -- show up at the polls Nov. 8.

In Minneapolis, most voters eschewed the opportunity to list secondary and tertiary choices. The number of candidates and turnout also held steady from comparable years.

Even Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky can't say if St. Paul's experience will differ from Minneapolis. "We may well see the same thing here," he said. "We're eager to find out."

Three races will tell the tale, including the contest for the Macalester-Groveland/Highland Park seat held by departing Council Member Pat Harris. The heavy favorites are DFL endorsee Chris Tolbert and John Mannillo. Tolbert is an assistant Hennepin County attorney. Mannillo is a businessman. Also on the ballot are substitute teacher Eve Stein and Tylor Slinger.

The more candidates in a field, the greater the possibility that none will receive a majority and lower-ranked choices will need to be counted.

Only one candidate is actively casting for second-place votes: Jim Ivey, former politics chair of the state Green Party who's trying to take out longtime DFL incumbent Dave Thune in the ward representing downtown, West 7th, the West Side and Grand Avenue. Ivey, a Lowertown resident and computer software business owner, tells voters he wants to be their top choice, but if he isn't, he wants to be their second choice.

The race against Thune also includes nonpartisan architectural illustrator Bill Hosko, Cynthia Schanno and frequent candidate Sharon Anderson.

The voter ranking options also could play a part in the inner-city Summit-University ward, where DFL incumbent Melvin Carter III seeks his first re-election since he upset an incumbent four years ago. Carter faces feisty challengers in Frogtown activist and Green Party endorsee Johnny Howard and real estate agent-city Planning Commission member Anthony Fernandez. James Michael McEiver hasn't campaigned, but his name also will be on the ballot.

The financially and racially diverse ward faces housing, education and crime challenges. The contest has focused on who could better connect City Hall and neighborhoods.

In what is viewed as the key head-to-head match that won't be affected by ranked-choice voting, Amy Brendmoen has taken on Lee Helgen in his second re-election bid. Helgen won his seat eight years ago by 306 votes.

Brendmoen, communications director for the Children's Home Society, casts herself as a scrappy problem-solver. She has worked for two attorneys general and as an advertising account executive.

Council President Kathy Lantry, who represents the Lower East Side, is the only one without a challenger.

Russ Stark, who represents the Hamline-Midway area, and former police officer Don Bostrom, who represents the northeastern part of the city around Lake Phalen, are expected to win re-election. Nonpartisan candidate Curtis Stock is running against Stark. Green Party endorsee Bee K. Xiong is running against Bostrom.

If no council candidate receives a majority of votes in a ward with three or more candidates, the winner won't be known on election night.

Mansky said his office will begin the manual retabulation of votes at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 14, the Monday after the election. He urged voters to check Ramsey County's website, http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/elections and their mailboxes for instructions on using the system. Voters also will be given written instructions at the polls.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 • Twitter: @rochelleolson

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