Ranked voting gets first runoff test

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2011 - 11:22 PM

The new system will decide St. Paul's Second Ward race next week. In the Fifth, Lee Helgen conceded to Amy Brendmoen.

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Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, put information at a St. Paul resident’s home ahead of Tuesday’s election about the city’s new ranked-voting procedure. She said the new system worked smoothly.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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St. Paul City Council Member Lee Helgen conceded his seat Wednesday, saying he won't ask for a recount in his razor-thin loss, while in another City Council race nobody was predicting the outcome of the crowded contest in the Second Ward.

Helgen, a two-term DFLer, lost by 36 votes to DFL challenger Amy Brendmoen in the Como Park-centered Fifth Ward.

Helgen said a recount wouldn't shift enough votes his way to make it worthwhile. "It's a tough day," Helgen said. "Any time you lose an election, it's tough. ... It's time to move on with my life."

On the other end of the outcome, an excited Brendmoen was busy scheduling meetings with groups that supported her and those that didn't. "I just have a lot of listening and learning to do," Brendmoen said, adding that she hopes to "earn the respect" of Helgen's supporters.

The election marked the first use of ranked voting in St. Paul. The switch went off smoothly by all accounts. A big test, however, comes Monday when Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky's office will begin counting the second-place votes of the bottom three finishers in the Second Ward: Sharon Anderson, Cynthia P. Schanno and the write-in candidates. Their second-choice votes will be redistributed to the top three candidates, one of whom will eventually be dropped.

Incumbent DFLer Dave Thune received the most first-place votes Tuesday, but didn't surpass the barrier of "50 percent plus one vote" needed to win. He was followed by Green Party challenger Jim Ivey and architectural illustrator Bill Hosko. A winner will be named Monday when one candidate surpasses 50 percent or the ballots of all but the top two have been exhausted.

Nobody was guessing at the outcome. Ivey used a strategy that no one else tried. He sought second-place votes from his opponents' supporters.

"We knew there was no way we were going to get more first-place votes than Dave," said Ivey, who's hoping that enough second-place votes come his way to push him ahead. "It's going to be really, really interesting," he said.

Thune said, "I have no idea how it's going to work out."

Ivey, a small-business owner, declared victory, but not for himself. "The weight of the world is off my shoulders, so win or lose Monday, I still get to talk about how great ranked-choice voting is," he said.

Ivey said the system worked because all candidates in the Second Ward race ran positive campaigns on the issues, rather than slinging mud, because they couldn't afford to anger another candidate's supporters. "If you say something bad about Jim, Jim's voters aren't going to choose you for a second-place vote," he said.

Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, the advocacy group for ranked voting, praised the results, including the cliffhanger and the interest surrounding it. "We like to see this," she said.

The goal of ranked voting, she said, is to have more voters involved in selecting representatives. While about 15 percent turned out Tuesday, Massey said that's 10 percentage points more than would have come to a contest traditional primary. (There are no primaries in ranked voting.) "We still have a long ways to go to increase that turnout," Massey said.

Incumbents Dan Bostrom, Russ Stark and Melvin Carter III easily won re-election, as did Council President Kathy Lantry, who was unopposed. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Chris Tolbert won in the Highland Park/Macalester-Groveland seat vacated by departing Council Member Pat Harris. Tolbert, a political newcomer, carried the DFL endorsement and the backing of Mayor Chris Coleman. He defeated DFL businessman John Mannillo.

Mansky predicted the winner in the Second Ward -- which includes West Seventh, downtown, Grand Avenue and the West Side -- will be known by midafternoon Monday. He and his staff will begin hand-counting the ballots at 8:30 a.m. at his office. The counting is open to the public.

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

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