Ranked choice ballot system will matter more in 2013

12:07 PM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Voters in the Mill City will give the ranked choice voting system another big test in November, but this year those second and third choices will matter more.

And that, in essence, is how it's supposed to work.

"With ranked choice voting, the more candidates you rank the more power you ballot has," Jeanne Massey of FairVote Minnesota, a group that advocates for the ranked choice system, told KARE.

Voters in the mayor's race, for example, will be able to name their top three choices, from a slate of 35 candidates.

"You get to ask yourself who is my backup candidate? And who is a second backup candidate, in case my candidate doesn't make it through?" Massey explained.

If no candidate gains a majority, defined as 50 percent plus one vote, in that first round of tabulations an instant runoff begins, a process of eliminating candidates with no mathematical chance of winning.

Once your favorite candidate is eliminated, your vote is transferred to your second choice's tally. If your second choice is eliminated, your vote moves to your third choice.

That process continues until one candidate collects enough of those second and third choice votes to get over the 50 percent mark.

The City's ranked choice web page has a lot of tutorials for voters, including an interactive voting game that allows them to see how the voting process works and how the ballots are scored.

In 2009 incumbent Mayor RT Rybak received 73 percent of the first-choice votes, so there was no need for a second round of tabulations.  All 13 city council candidates that year also hit the 50 percent threshold, without the need for second and third choices to be taken into consideration.

But in 2013 the political landscape is quite different in Minneapolis. Because the mayoral field is so crowded it's unlikely any one candidate will get the required 50 percent majority required to win in the opening round.

The same thing applies to those council races, with several opens seats up for grabs and some incumbents facing especially strong challengers.

"This is the first time the city has asked to use the longest ballot allowed under state law," Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl told KARE.

"You can have a 14, a 17 or a 19-inch ballot. This year's municipal election we'll have a 19-inch ballot, to accommodate all of those candidates."

As a voter you're still free to pick only one candidate, and leave the second choice and third choice columns blank. But elections experts say ranking candidates gives you the most say over the outcome.

"Certainly if voters choose to vote for only one candidate, and rank that person in the first column -- their first choice -- they can do that," Carl said.

"But if that candidate's defeated, then that ballot's exhausted because they didn't choose any further candidates."

Carl, who is still looking to hire more election judges for November 5th, said the experience for voters at the ballot box will be essentially the same as always.

The tabulation process will be more complex than in the traditional election, but even that has been aided by new software that helps election workers mesh vote totals transmitted wirelessly from the city's precincts.

Fortunately 35 candidates doesn't necessarily translate to 35 rounds of tabulations.  Many of those at the bottom of the roster will be eliminated after the first round, because it will be mathematically impossible for them to win.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE.All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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