St. Paul voters followed their counterparts in Minneapolis and approved a change to the way they will elect candidates in future city races.

The city will switch to ranked choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, in 2011, after voters approved the system Tuesday by about a 4 percent margin. It will only be for mayor and City Council races, not school board or Ramsey County Board elections.

"We're very satisfied that the voters of St. Paul have earned the right to use ranked choice voting," said Ellen Brown, campaign coordinator for the St. Paul Better Ballot Campaign. The group has pushed for the switch for years. "Folks have worked hard for this."

But ranked voting also has its opponents, and things got testy leading up to election day.

A strident opponent of ranked choice voting, Chuck Repke, said false endorsements of it on mailings accounted for the victory. His group, the No Bad Ballots Committee, has filed a formal complaint against the Better Ballot group and will have a hearing today with an administrative law judge on the matter.

"I'm pretty firmly convinced the unfair campaign practices they did will change the results in a courtroom," he said.

Brown disagreed. "We're quite confident there's no irregularity that will invalidate the election," she said.

Ranked choice voting lets voters rank candidates by preference. If no candidate reaches a majority (50 percent plus one vote) in the first round of counting, then the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. The second-place votes on that candidate's ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates and so on until someone gets a majority.

Supporters say ranked choice voting can save money by eliminating the need for primaries and also say it improves representation, increases turnout and promotes more positive and informative campaigns.

Opponents criticize ranked voting for being complicated, expensive and leaving voters out.

Now that it's approved, the City Council will need to figure out exactly which variation of the ranked choice options to use, said Joe Mansky, elections manager for Ramsey County. The county handles elections for the city.

Once a system is chosen, he said, the council will need to enact an ordinance. Then voters will need to be informed about the new method.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148