Thumbs up for ranked-choice voting; thumbs down for long list of candidates

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 6, 2013 - 12:13 AM
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A voter whose ballot was rejected got help from an election official at Elliot Recreation Center. The ballot had marks the machine couldn’t read accurately.

Photo: Jim Gehrz • jgehrz@startribune.com,

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Minneapolis voters didn’t trip up on ranked-choice voting Tuesday — which faced its first major test since it was approved by voters seven years ago — but stumbled on the long list of 35 mayoral candidates.

Across the city, many voters expressed a mix of exasperation and amusement at the list, calling it “absurd,” “ridiculous” and “silly.”

The low filing fee of $20 and the lack of a primary election due to ranked-choice voting bloated the field of candidates this year in the race to replace Mayor R.T. Rybak, whose decision to bow out after three terms helped spark the run.

Many voters suggested raising the bar for candidates running in future municipal elections, including increasing the filing fee to $500 to $1,000 or requiring a petition with voter signatures to run.

“They need to increase the filing fees so that not everybody with a double sawbuck in their wallet can register to become mayor,” said Paul Gustafson as he left an Eighth Ward polling place at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church. “That’s too stinking confusing.”

Many said that would thin the herd and eliminate “novelty” or “comic relief” candidates who may drown out serious candidates and pressing issues facing the city. Among the quirkier candidates: Captain Jack Sparrow (it’s his legal name on his driver’s license) and Kurtis W. Hanna, a candidate walking the Pirate Party plank.

“They’ve got every wandering soul imaginable,” said voter Duane Kullberg upon emerging from a Seventh Ward polling station at the Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center.

Voter Cynthia Beukema said as she left the polls that it was “a pity” the system couldn’t cull the list of candidates to something more reasonable.

A few more-tolerant voters thought the long list was a sign of a healthy democracy.

“As long as the list is and as intimidating as it feels, it was great to see such a range of options,” said Dan Swenson-Klatt, who was volunteering at a Kingfield neighborhood booth near his polling station Tuesday morning. “Even if I thought many of them maybe weren’t really good, it was just good to see so many options.”

Voter David Bach said he liked the idea that he could vote for more than one candidate: “I can see that there’s good in more than one candidate.”

System was approved in 2006

The good news for the city was that few voters seemed flummoxed by ranked-choice voting, a system approved by voters in 2006 in order to do away with primaries and, according to those who supported the change, give voters a stronger voice by giving them three choices.

Ranked-choice voting took years to implement as the city purchased new equipment and prepared for the change. The 2009 municipal elections were the first to use the new system of vote counting, but because Rybak didn’t face a strong challenge, it didn’t get much of a workout.

At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near Lake of the Isles on Tuesday, head judge Jane Martin said a few voters had to redo ballots after filling in their ranked-choice votes incorrectly, but most people did their homework with the city’s sample ballots.

“Some haven’t taken it well, but most have been OK with it,” Martin said. “It’s just different for everyone.”

At the Bakken Museum near Lake Calhoun, election judge Dottie Dolezal said they had about a 5 percent error rate of spoiled ballots done incorrectly, which is higher than normal, she said, likely because of ranked-choice voting.

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  • Brenda Bell Brown, an assistant chief election judge, handed out the recognizable red “I Voted” stickers at her precinct.

  • In a secure basement room in Minneapolis City Hall where the votes were to be tabulated, Wisdom Kim finished setting up the live video feed that was to be transmitted to the election information station upstairs. Kim works for Unisys, the company that the city hires for technology services. Election judges said they didn’t see much confusion over ranked-choice voting. “Some haven’t taken it well, but most have been OK with it,” said head judge Jane Martin at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near Lake of the Isles.

  • Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl was at the center of the city's first Ranked Choice Voting election on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. He was overseeing preparations for tabulating at City Hall as voting took place across the city. City Clerk Casey Carl touched base with Anissa Hollingshead of his office when they were both briefly in a conference room Tuesday afternoon that's been converted to a command center for the city's first RCV election. ] JEFF WHEELER ‚Ä¢ jeff.wheeler@startribune.com

  • A get-out-the-vote volunteer was staked out at W. 50th Street and Xerxes Avenue S. in Minneapolis on Tuesday morning.

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