Five Minnesota cities will use ranked-choice voting on Election Day — and one will decide whether to end its abbreviated experiment with the sometimes controversial way of deciding elections.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are the cities best known for ranked-choice voting, but Bloomington, St. Louis Park and Minnetonka also use the method in some races with more than two candidates.

After approving ranked-choice voting in 2020, Minnetonka voters face a ballot question Nov. 7 on whether to get rid of it.

What is ranked-choice voting?

The aim of ranked-choice voting, also called instant runoff voting, is that whoever wins a general election gets a majority of voters' support. It also eliminates the need for a primary election in races with lots of candidates.

In Minnesota, it is available to home-rule charter cities and is typically used in nonpartisan races for mayor and city council.

State law prohibits its use in federal, state, county and school district elections.

How does it work?

If there are more than two candidates in a race, voters are asked to rank their choices first, second and third. In St. Paul, voters may be asked to rank more candidates in certain races.

This voter in a fictional city election ranked Walleye first , Loon second and Moose third. This educated voter did not rank Mosquito.

If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on the first round, they win.

If no one gets a majority of voters' first choices, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who ranked them first have their votes go to their second choice.

No candidate reached the majority required to win in the first round of voting. Walleye received the fewest votes. Everyone who ranked Walleye first has their votes redistributed to their second choice.

The process continues until a candidate gets more than 50% of the total vote.

Enough Walleye and Loon voters ranked Moose second or third to propel him to victory against Mosquito.

How are votes counted?

Tabulating votes and declaring a winner can be more complicated and take longer than counting traditional ballots.

Ballots are run through a voting machine and all of the voters' choices are recorded on a digital memory card. Initially, first-choice votes are reported along with more traditional races.

In races where no one received a majority of the vote, election officials look at the other ranked-choice votes cast.

In Minneapolis, the first Minnesota city to use ranked-choice voting, starting in 2009, election workers use computer spreadsheets to allocate voters' second and, when needed, third choices.

Aaron Grossman, who supervises election administration for the city, says redundancy is built into the counting process and a computer program is used to check the count. "We have a system that works and produces results the next day," he said.

Grossman also noted that in nearly 90 races using ranked-choice voting, there have been only three won by a candidate who was trailing after the initial count. In other words, 97% of the time, the race has ended up going to the person who started out in the lead.

Why some voters like it and others don't

Supporters say ranked-choice voting ensures whoever wins an election received a majority of voters' support, rather than a plurality. Backers also argue that it's a good way to avoid costly primaries, where a smaller number of voters typically pick the candidates for the general election.

"With a little bit of education, voters rank their ballot with ease," said Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, an organization working to adopt ranked-choice voting statewide. She feels the frustrations surrounding it are overblown.

"No party should be fearful of running candidates and hoping they achieve a majority of support," Massey said.

But critics say ranked-choice voting can be confusing and costly to administer. They argue it has not yet delivered on promises of increased participation, more diverse candidates and less negative campaigning.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School, says he's not convinced it will improve the tenor of an increasingly polarized political system.

"We are at a time when people are desperate to change our political process, and ranked-choice voting promises to be the solution," Jacobs said. "I think there are other things we can do."

Critics also see problems with so-called exhausted ballots, which occur when a voter does not rank candidates or the candidates they do rank are not part of the final tally. Opponents say that means a winning candidate may not have a true majority of votes cast.

Advocates argue that possibility is rare and that ranked-choice voting encourages more participation than races with primaries or runoffs.

What comes next for ranked-choice voting?

Advocates and opponents will have their eyes on the Minnetonka effort to amend the city charter to get rid of ranked-choice voting. In 2020, 55% of voters backed changing the city charter to use it to pick the mayor and city council.

Earlier this year, the Legislature created a task force that will look at how ranked-choice voting could be implemented statewide and draft a report by 2025.

Secretary of State Steve Simon supports expanding ranked-choice voting and allowing municipalities without home-rule to try it. But he urged caution about the administrative impact that broader implementation may have on counties, cities and school districts.

Deborah Erickson, president of the Minnesota Association of County Officers, said holding ranked-choice elections in odd years when statewide races are not on the ballot is manageable. It gets tricky, especially for smaller counties, when there are other contests.

"When you have multiple types of voting on the same ballot, that can be very confusing for voters," Erickson said.