35 mayoral candidates in Minneapolis again? Not likely

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 12:24 AM

Higher fees would mean fewer candidates, speeding ranked-choice vote count.

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A voter received help from election officials at the Elliot Park Recreation Center after having cast a ballot that was rejected by the voting machine for apparently having some marks that could not be read accurately by the machine.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Remember the 35 candidates in the last Minneapolis mayoral race and how long it took to declare a winner?

City officials are working to make sure that never happens again.

Four months after the election, the city clerk’s office is recommending that the filing fee be increased from $20 and that new tabulation methods be implemented to speed vote counting. The current rules and glut of candidates meant it took two 12-hour days to tabulate the results of the mayor’s race, the city’s first major test of ranked-choice voting.

So many candidates — including one named Captain Jack Sparrow — received a minimal number of votes in the ranked-choice contest that the clerk’s office estimates that 91 percent could have been eliminated in the first round of tabulation if the rules had been different. That would have meant producing a final result in the afternoon following Election Day.

“I think it went very smoothly last year,” said Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote, which advocates for ranked-choice voting. “But it certainly took people by surprise that there were that many candidates on the ballot. And it took longer than it needed to. With these improvements, both of those things will be better in 2017.”

Efforts to increase the filing fee were put in motion less than 24 hours after the election, when the city’s charter commission voted to raise it from $20 to $500 to run for mayor. That proposal died because the council failed to act in time, but Council Member Cam Gordon said Monday that he is working on another proposal — with a lower fee — that he hopes will garner unanimous support from his colleagues.

In a report Monday, which will be presented to a council committee on Tuesday, City Clerk Casey Carl’s office did not recommend an amount for the new filing fee but made it clear it doesn’t want to see dozens of candidates again.

“The public reasonably expects candidates to display a certain level of public support in order to appear on the ballot,” the report said. “Requiring a candidate to pay a filing fee higher than the current fee of $20 (or allowing ballot access if they reach a certain number of signatures on a candidacy petition) achieves this goal.”

Batch elimination

Carl’s office recommended in its report that ordinances should be changed for the 2017 municipal election to allow for batch elimination based on candidates’ potential to win the election.

Rather than eliminating all mathematically impossible candidates at once, current ordinances use a slower method that was designed for hand counting.

Massey said she hopes that the city will also pursue certification of vote tabulation software, which would further expedite the counting process.

The lack of that certified software factored into another oddity of the 2013 election: watching tabulators manipulate Excel spreadsheets via a Skype feed into the City Hall rotunda. Officials are recommending changing the ordinance language to clarify that public observation of tabulation is only necessary if paper ballots are being handled.

The detailed report also showed that 2013 city elections cost $1.75 million. That’s just over what Carl originally requested, but much more than the $1.3 million the council approved. The last ranked-choice election in Minneapolis, in 2009, cost $1.47 million.

Repeated candidate rankings

One major driver of the cost was mailing a voter guide to every household in the city, which cost $97,536. Massey said a new voter education campaign initiated by the city in 2013 makes cost comparisons to previous elections difficult.

Just more than 80,000 ballots were cast in the election, which allowed voters to select three candidate preferences. Seventy-six percent of ballots in the mayor’s race listed the maximum of three candidate choices.

The city found the most common voter error was repeating a candidate in the rankings — 3.28 percent of ballots in the election had this error.

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