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After vowing not to run, Lee entered a race already packed with well-known politicians in August and emerged as a front-runner. Some candidates went negative, but Lee was able to win after “dominating the Chinese vote and doing well with second and third choices throughout most of the city,” according to an analysis co-authored by Latterman. It took 12 rounds to determine a winner, but Lee led on every one.
“The Ed Lee race showed that if you’re at the top, you need to mind your p’s and q’s to make sure you take care of second- and third- place votes,” said Andy O’Leary, Betsy Hodges’ campaign manager
Another Bay Area contest with similarities to Minneapolis, though on a much smaller scale, was a 21-candidate 2010 race for a San Francisco Board of Supervisors seat that remained wildly unpredictable heading into Election Day. It took 20 rounds to determine a winner: Malia Cohen, who had been a third-place finisher on round one. Second- and third-choice votes helped propel her in later rounds.
Tony Hill, a longtime Minnesota political scientist now working at MIT, says the presence of many serious candidates on the Minneapolis ballot could set the stage for a similar outcome. “The fact that some of these people are there … has the potential to stir things up the way it happened in San Francisco,” Hill said.
Opponents have tried unsuccessfully to repeal ranked-choice voting in San Francisco and Oakland — an editorial last year in the San Francisco Chronicle said it had produced “voter confusion and vacuous campaigns.” Others have been successful, like Burlington, Vt., which repealed it after an incumbent mayor was re-elected in a tight race after placing second on the first round.
Despite earlier elections, Minneapolis 2013 is likely to be its own case study for ranked-choice voting experts across the country. In particular, the lack of a strong front-runner makes it unique.
“What happens will be watched very closely as it was in San Francisco,” said Hill.
Ellickson, of the Andrew campaign, said they are studying several ranked-choice races because “we don’t know the exact scenario that we’re potentially looking at here in the final” days before the election.
Independent candidate Cam Winton said Minneapolis is charting its own course. “That’s part of what’s so exciting about this race,” he said.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732