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.
Voter Pat Graiziger said that the ranked-choice system is a great idea and that it should be used in future city elections to prevent recounts. "It challenges you a bit more to get your third [choice]," he said.
The head election judge at a Seventh Ward polling station, Carleton Crawford, said he didn't see much confusion among voters over ranked-choice voting or surprise at the long list of mayoral candidates.
"Nothing significant," Crawford said, "nothing like, 'Where did this come from?' "