Two piles of ballots will tell the story in St. Paul on Monday when Ramsey County elections officials determine which of two candidates — Rebecca Noecker or Darren Tobolt — has been elected to the City Council’s Second Ward seat.
The pair finished one-two in Tuesday’s balloting, but neither was able to capture more than 50 percent of the first-choice ballots cast in the ranked-choice election. Noecker received 2,390 votes, or 41.7 percent, while Tobolt’s tally was 2,207, or 38.5 percent.
The race now moves to the county elections bureau, where at 8:30 a.m. Monday officials will recount all first-choice ballots cast for the seat and then reallocate second-choice, third-choice and subsequent ballots as needed until someone cracks 50 percent or ends up first.
Six candidates competed for the seat, but only Noecker and Tobolt are in the finals, because it’s mathematically impossible for the others to pick up the needed votes to win, Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said.
The ballot counting, open to the public, likely will be finished by midafternoon, he said.
The Second Ward race was the only close one in this year’s council election, in which all five incumbents won easily and one newcomer — attorney Jane Prince — ran unopposed.
Mansky said Wednesday that turnout numbers were not available but that it was unlikely they topped the 30,682 voters, or 14 percent of the electorate, who turned out for a city race two years ago. There’s no evidence that ranked-choice voting has had any effect on turnout, he said.
The Second Ward, which encompasses downtown, the West Side and the West 7th area, has a history of close races. In 2011, the ranked-choice system was tested in St. Paul for the first time when incumbent Dave Thune finished first, but with less than 50 percent of the vote. He was declared the winner over two other candidates after second-place ballots were reallocated.
Another runoff was held in 2013 when Dai Thao was declared the First Ward winner after winding up with more votes than the other finalist, even though he failed to get more than 50 percent.
Mayor Chris Coleman said Wednesday that he can work closely with either Tobolt, whom he endorsed, or Noecker, who during the campaign urged council members to stand up more often to the mayor.
Coleman said issues in 2016 will include ongoing work for racial equity, the question of organized trash collection, progress toward construction of a professional soccer stadium and development of the Ford site in Highland Park.
The mayor noted that five council members were re-elected by wide margins, which he suggested was a stamp of approval for the city’s overall progress.
“I don’t think anyone thinks our work is done,” he said, “but I don’t think yesterday was anything but an acknowledgment that we’re headed in the right direction.”