election 2013

Hodges wins Mpls. mayor's race, but slow count brings backlash

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER and MAYA RAO , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: November 8, 2013 - 3:23 PM

Hodges win is confirmed, but long, frustrating process delays other races.

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City Clerk Casey Carl hung another spreadsheet in City Hall as counting continued.

Photo: Bill McAuliffe , Star Tribune

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Minneapolis residents got a cold dose of the reality of ranked-choice voting Thursday, as the excitement they felt about picking first, second and third choices for mayor on Tuesday gave way to the tedium of tallying those votes in the hours and days since.

At 10:14 p.m. Thursday — more than 50 hours after the polls closed — officials finally confirmed that Betsy Hodges had been elected the next mayor of Minneapolis. It was an anticlimactic conclusion to a process carried out publicly, and in excruciating detail, over the course of three days of counting.

Here was one round: Eight votes to Hodges, who had led since the first night. Eight for Mark Andrew, who never budged from his spot as a distant second. Meanwhile, political newcomer Cam Winton got 57 votes, and perennial candidate Ole Savior got 38 and stayed in the race for another round, even though he had no statistical chance of winning.

So it went Thursday, over and over again, taxing the patience of voters and candidates alike.

“We’ve got to have results,” said Jim Miller, a voter in the 13th Ward, where the results of a hotly contested City Council race was on hold until the mayoral results were official. “We can’t sit here like this, like a bunch of ninnies.”

This year marked the first big test of ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis, which accounts for voters’ second and third preferences in determining a winner. Ranked-choice voting is used in only two larger U.S. cities, and because of the sheer number of candidates in Minneapolis — 35 — city officials took pains to note results would not be known until Wednesday night.

But Thursday morning the count continued, and City Clerk Casey Carl found himself sparring with frustrated reporters in City Hall about the delay in the final results. “When are we gonna have it? When are we gonna have it?” Carl said of the questions. “There’s an expectation that before I go to bed the night of the election, we have it.”

A faster way?

As Carl spoke, a nearby television carried a live feed from the City Hall basement, where two election workers were using a spreadsheet to reallocate votes.

That low-tech, labor intensive process has generated a host of questions from candidates, election observers and amateur mathematicians alike.

Why couldn’t the city eliminate all of the lowest polling candidates who didn’t have a mathematical chance of winning?

Answer: Because city ordinance allows for the elimination of only candidates who have no chance of moving up even one spot in the rankings. Many of the 34 losing candidates were separated by a small number of votes.

“The spread between the candidates at the bottom didn’t exist,” said FairVote Minnesota’s Jeanne Massey, who supports changing the language to eliminate candidates who can’t mathematically win. “You can’t do mathematical elimination unless there’s a spread.”

Why couldn’t the city use a script or another software program that would quickly sort and reallocate votes?

Answer: Because no software has been certified by state and federal government to perform such a tally. Plus, the hardware arrived only this summer, and obtaining certification is a murky process.

Council Member Cam Gordon, chairman of the city’s election committee, said he regrets assuring voters that an official winner would be declared by Wednesday. “I think that’s the major problem right now is we weren’t clear about expectations,” Gordon said.

He added that the mix-up may have been because they did not practice with a scenario where so many candidates received so few votes.

Council candidates in limbo

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