Voters' second- and third-choice rankings could be crucial in determining which candidates win historic Minneapolis elections in November.
With a near-record 102 candidates, residents will have crowded fields to choose from as they head to the polls for the first city races since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd's killing. It will be the fourth citywide election using ranked-choice voting.
Q: How do I fill out my ballot?
A: Each ballot will contain three columns asking voters to designate their first, second and third choices in candidates.
You can choose only one candidate per column. You can't repeat candidates; for example, you can't list John Doe as both your first and second choices.
You can rank one, two or three candidates. You don't have to fill them all out.
David Kimball, a political-science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who studies ranked-choice voting, said people have strategic options: If they really like a candidate, they could rank just that person, for instance, although they would then risk forfeiting their chance to weigh in on others if their preferred candidate doesn't top the list.
Q: When will we see results?
A: Races will be called at different times.
A winner for Minneapolis mayor or council will be declared on election night only if the candidate receives more than 50% of first-choice votes based on the total number of ballots cast in the election.
For other races, where multiple seats are open, the thresholds are different. For the Minneapolis Board of Estimate & Taxation, which has two open seats, a candidate will need more than 33% of the votes; for Park Board at-large seats, a candidate will need more than 25% of the votes.
If a candidate doesn't meet the threshold, the race will proceed to ranked-choice voting, and that counting will begin the next day.
City workers will count the votes in the following order: mayor, City Council (with a drawing to determine which wards get counted first), Board of Estimate & Taxation, Park & Recreation Board at-large seats, Park & Recreation Board district seats.
Aaron Grossman, a Minneapolis elections supervisor overseeing ranked-choice voting, said they hope to have unofficial results for all races by day's end on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
In other cities that used ranked-choice voting, thresholds and timelines could be different.
Q: How does ranked-choice voting work?
A: To calculate the winner in a ranked-choice voting system, it's not enough to know just how many first-, second- or third-choice votes a candidate earned. Officials need to know the unique combinations on each voter's ballot. That information — stored on voting machine memory sticks — gets processed by Hennepin County officials, who give those details to the city the morning after the election.
While computer programs could tabulate winners, no system has been approved yet at the state level, so Grossman said city workers will do those calculations themselves.
The city's elections team will check to see how many first-choice votes a candidate got. Then, "we go through a process called mathematical elimination where the candidates, if it's mathematically impossible for them to be elected, are eliminated," Grossman said.
Then, elections workers look at ballots where people's first-choice candidates have been eliminated. They look to see who those people ranked second and add those votes to each candidate's vote counts.
If a voter's first- and second-choice candidates have been eliminated, the city will look at who the voter ranked third.
The process repeats until one candidate meets the threshold for winning, or until there are only two candidates left and one is ahead.
Once a race proceeds to ranked-choice tabulation, the thresholds change slightly: Instead of needing to reach a certain percentage based on the total number of ballots cast in the election, candidates need to reach that threshold based only on the number of votes cast in their individual race.
Q: What about the ballot questions?
A: Ranked-choice voting will be used only for the candidates in Minneapolis, not questions on policing, rent control and government powers. Those measures will pass if 51% of the people voting on those questions select "yes." Questions left blank won't be counted as part of the total.
For more information about the ballot questions, visit: startribune.com/mplsquestions.
Star Tribune news developer Michael Corey contributed to this report.