One St. Paul race heads to 2nd round

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2011 - 12:02 AM

Alternate choices under ranked-choice voting appeared likely to figure in races for seats from the Second and Third wards.

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Matt Freeman of St Paul held a sign on Ford Parkway in support of Chris Tolbert for City Council on Tuesday morning in St. Paul.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The election in the St. Paul City Council's sprawling Second Ward headed Tuesday to another round of vote tallying in the city's first foray into ranked voting.

The remaining six wards were settled on election night, although one could be headed to a recount if ousted incumbent Lee Helgen decides to pay for it.

DFL challenger Amy Brendmoen edged Helgen by 33 votes in Como Park's Fifth Ward. Helgen said late Tuesday he needed more information before deciding on a recount. A nine-vote margin would have triggered an automatic recount.

The ranked-voting system allowed voters to rank up to six candidates in the City Council races. A candidate would win by receiving 50 percent plus one vote. If none of the candidates hits that mark, the race remains unsettled, as it does in the Second Ward, where four challengers sought to unseat longtime DFL incumbent Dave Thune. The ward includes downtown, Grand Avenue, West 7th and the West Side.

The winner in that ward won't be known until Monday, when a hand count takes place. Thune led by double digits late Tuesday night, but was well below the percentage needed to win. That means the ballots for all but Thune, architectural illustrator Bill Hosko and James Ivey, a Green Party member, will be looked at anew Monday. The second-place votes of the dropped candidates will be manually redirected until one of the top three candidates surpasses the 50 percent threshold. If none hits the mark, the candidate with the most votes will win.

The new voting system didn't factor into the race for the seat open from the departure of Third Ward Council Member Pat Harris.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney and DFL endorsee Chris Tolbert slipped over the threshold needed to win the seat representing the Highland Park and Macalester-Groveland area. He had Mayor Chris Coleman's support and slid past businessman John Mannillo.

The remaining four council members easily won re-election to four-year terms and the DFL retained its dominance. Council Member Melvin Carter III won his first re-election bid in the inner-city Summit-University ward. Council Member Russ Stark cruised in the Fourth Ward, representing the Hamline-Midway area. Council Member Don Bostrom won his east side ward and Council President Kathy Lantry faced no opposition.

Although Brendmoen's 33-vote defeat of Helgen was the big news of Election Day, the bigger question on the role of ranked voting won't be settled until Monday's tabulations. Thune would appear to have the edge, but Ivey was the only candidate who actively sought second-place votes. It's impossible to say where the second-place votes from the dropped candidates went.

Ranked voting didn't factor into Helgen's defeat because only Brendmoen challenged him. She signaled early power last spring when she prevented Helgen from receiving his DFL Party's nod for re-election. The party's get-out-the-vote muscle in the DFL town heavily favors endorsees.

Brendmoen, a mother and wife, is the communications director for the Children's Home Society. She and her supporters were indefatigable door-knockers in the Como Park area ward. She has worked for two attorneys general and as an advertising account executive.

The city's new voting system didn't trip up voters nor did it engender much enthusiasm. "We had a very easy day," Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky said. "In polling places I visited, there were virtually no spoiled ballots so that's an indication that whatever advertising we did worked."

Voter turnout, however, remained at its historically low 15 percent, or 30,000 voters, for council elections. Many voters passed on the chance to rank the candidates. Across the city, the number of votes cast for second-place candidates fell by a third to half of the votes cast for the first choices. The votes cast for subsequent places on the ballot fell further.

Angela Hesser, voting in the Second Ward, said she voted only for one candidate. "I want the person to win," she said.

Patricia and Roger Belfay each ranked three candidates in the Second Ward, but they didn't like the new system. He said: "I wonder what is the extra expense of putting it that way. Is it worth the every 300 years when we have a runoff?"

In Mansky's office Monday, the Second Ward ballots will be laid on tables to begin the second round.

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

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