Minneapolis Election: Betsy Hodges Almost Claims Victory; RCV Count Goes Slow

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Election UpDate from The UpTake on Ranked Choice Vote tabulations in the race for Minneapolis Mayor: After 12 rounds of counting, ten mayoral candidates have been eliminated and their 2nd preference votes redistributed to the remaining 25 candidates. The dropped or defeated candidates are, in order of their elimination: Wilson, Gorman, Carney Jr., Workcuff, Stroud, Bruyere, Hartwig, Kahn, Rea and Merrill Anderson. Since their vote levels were low, however, their elimination has not measurably moved the vote counts of front-runner Betsy Hodges and her closest rival, Mark Andrew.

City Clerk Casey Carl said the tabulation or counting process, eliminating the candidates with the lowest first-preference vote totals and then transferring their second-preference votes to the remaining candidates, was proving to be “laborious.” With 35 candidates, the process was taking about an hour for each round. At that pace, with the leaders picking up an average of just five additional votes per round, it would take 11 or 12 weeks for Hodges to win. That won’t happen: When all but the top seven or eight candidates have been eliminated, each new round will start adding significant piles of votes to the top choices. The process, which Carl had said he hoped would finish today, is likely to conclude Thursday or Friday at the latest.

As of 10:20 p.m. tonight, Hodges had picked up just 64 votes, leaving her with a total of 29,036 — still 10,672 transferred votes short of the number needed to win. That number, called the “threshold,” is defined as half of all votes cast in the mayor’s race, plus 1, and has been set at 39,708.

Mark Andrew picked up 60 votes during the day’s counting, leaving him with a total of 19,708 — exactly 20,000 short of the magic number required for victory.

Story for The UpTake by Sheila Regan, Nick Coleman and Kathryn G. Nelson
Video reports by Bill Sorem and Hlee Lee

It was a dark and stormy election day that began with frost on car windshields and ended with snow and slush that got more media attention than the voting, at least on the 10 p.m. TV newscasts. But the day also brought smiles to the faces of the proponents of Ranked Choice Voting, who liked what they saw as the new voting system got its first serious tests in the Twin Cities, and to supporters of Minneapolis Mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges, who led in first-preference voting by a wide margin and seemed to be the odds-on favorite to formally claim victory today when election officials turn to redistributing second- and third-choice votes from the low-scoring contenders in the cast of 35 candidates.

It was also an election in which Somali and East African voters proclaimed a new-found political strength, electing the first Somali-American to the City Council from Ward Six. In Ward 9, a socialist and a DFL-endorsed candidate were locked in a tight race, and, in Wards Three and Ten, incumbents Diane Hofstede and Meg Tuthill lost their seats (to Jacob Frey and Lisa Bender, respectively), in races that tapped into voter anger over taxpayer subsidies for the Vikings stadium deal. But it was the mayor’s race that was most intriguing, with a crowded field, no clear front-runner, no DFL-endorsed candidate and most observers having little clue about how it might turn out as the city had its first hard-fought election under the terms of a Ranked Choice Voting system that left the winner uncrowned, at least for the night.

Hodges, a progressive Democrat, earned 36 percent of the voters’ first preference picks, 11 points ahead of her closest rival, fellow Dem Mark Andrew, who congratulated Hodges and proclaimed her the winner, causing RCV supporters to warn that the election was not yet over and that, in fact, it was too early to declare a victor.

First-round vote leader Betsy Hodges beams in front of supporters Tuesday night. Additional rounds of ballot counting today will determine whether she becomes the next mayor of Minneapolis. photo/kathrynnelson

But that didn’t dampen the mood at the Hodges election party on Lake Street last night.

Hodges urged her supporters to wait for the final results, telling them, “We’ll know more tomorrow” and cautioning them that Minneapolis did not yet have a new mayor. The ebullient crowd shouted back, “Yes we do.” And Hodges’ husband, Gary Cunningham, a member of the Metropolitan Council, jokingly shouted, “We’re going to Disney World!”

Minneapolis adopted RCV in 2006 and employed the voting method in the 2009 elections, but it had little impact. This year, with three-term incumbent R.T. Rybak stepping down and a number of hotly contested City Council races, RCV was seen as getting its first real test in the Twin Cities and the Minneapolis Mayor’s race drew attention from around the country and even brought a group of observers from Toronto, Canada to study the method here.

Helping to inform voters about the Ranked Choice Process was FairVote Minnesota, a group that had representatives at most voting locations, giving out information and helping answer questions about the process. Anya Svanoe, a volunteer with FairVote, said the most frequent question she received was whether RCV is the reason there was a confusing total of 35 candidates for mayor on the ballot, many of whom won only small numbers of first-preference votes, despite the media attention the more colorful among them garnered during the campaign. Example: “Captain Jack Sparrow,” the pirate hobbyist, got a lot of media but just 264 votes. Svanoe said RCV was not to blame for the large number of candidates and that RCV advocates suggest increasing the filing fee or requiring a fixed number of voter signatures in order to run.

Alan Olson, who’s been a goldsmith for 35 years, voted at Powderhorn Park in the 9th Ward. Olson spoke very favorably of the RCV process. “It’s not that difficult,” he said. “I think it is wonderful.”

An elderly man from Guyana (who declined to give his name), said he thought the voting went well but that he didn’t trust RCV. “It’s unfair to the people you are trying to elect,” he said, adding that he thought it might even be illegal. Still, he felt the process was simple and didn’t have any difficulties with it.

Sarah Lopez, a Minnesota FairVote volunteer at Green Central Park School in the 9th Ward, said many of the voters she talked to already knew how RCV worked, which she attributes to the 10 months of educational efforts the organization undertook to get the word out. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are very aware of the system,” she said.

Bosteya Jama, a FairVote volunteer outside the Brian Coyle Center on Ward Six, said many of the Somali voters in the Cedar-Riverside area already understood about Ranked Choice Voting, but that there were other voters who needed more explanation, such as some of the Vietnamese voters she had talked to.

Observing how RCV works were some people from the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, a group that hopes to use our system as a model for Toronto (who’s mayor recently admitted to smoking crack). “We’re inspired by what is happening down here,” said Dave Meslin, one of the Canadian visitors. “We’re curious to talk to people and find out if this campaign is friendlier from the perspective of voters, the candidates, and how media is treating people differently.”

Toronto supporters of RCV hope their city will have its first RCV election in 2018.


VIDEO REPORT: Minneapolis Voters Try Ranked Choice Voting

In the 9th ward, Ty Moore and Alondra Cano — two candidates with leftist progressive backgrounds — were locked in in a close City Council race. Neither earned more than 40 percent on the first count, and a winner won’t be determined until the counting resumes Wednesday. Voter Brian Payne said he decided to vote for the socialist candidate, Ty Moore, for the City Council, because he’s in favor of a third party system, and believes Moore will “shake up the system.” Payne also voted for Betsy Hodges for mayor, in part because Hodges has stood with immigrant workers in their efforts to earn better pay and working conditions. “I’ve seen her do things behind closed doors that doesn’t give her political points,” he said.

Maren Christiansen, who came to Green Central Park School with her two year old in tow, said she’s supporting the DFL-endorsed candidate for City Council, Cano. She said her decision to vote for mayor was more difficult. “R.T. (Rybak) set the bar pretty high,” she said.

Nicole and Alan Subola, voting at Powderhorn Park, said they made their decisions based on making Minneapolis “a better place to live.” “I did some polling of my friends,” Nicole Subola said. “My friends swayed me.” Unlike her husband, she only planned to rank one candidate.

In Ranked Choice Voting, voters could list up to three candidates as their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences. If no candidate gets a majority of all the votes cast on the counting of the first preference, the 2nd and 3rd choices of the candidates with the lowest vote totals are re-distributed to the other candidates until one arrives at a majority and is declared winner. The method is intended to discourage negative campaigning by giving candidates an incentive to cooperate with their opponents in order to appeal to the opponents’ supporters for their second and third preference votes.

That’s why RCV supporters, who had advised candidates to hold off on proclaiming themselves victors or losers, were surprised by Mark Andrew’s “concession” to Hodges. Although it looks as if Hodges will be the inevitable winner when you look at the 2nd and 3rd votes she had on the ballots of the other top contenders, those votes won’t be redistributed to her or the other leaders until after all the votes of the lowest finishers have been redistributed. The outcome is not as predictable as it may seem.

First Somali Elected To City Council

The 6th Ward saw a huge turnout from the Somali and East African community, where large numbers of supporters showed up to support Somali candidates Abdi Warsame for City Council and Hashim Yonis for the Park Board.

One voter, Ziad Oumer, who became a citizen in 2009, supported Warsame and Yonis because, “I want change,” he said. He hoped Warsame can help fix the roads, which “are very bad,” and to help limit the number of parking citations in Cedar Riverside. “They keep changing the (parking) signs,” Oumer said. “The police are here every day. It looks like they target us.”

Another 6th ward voter, Abdi Nuur Adeed, said he voted for Warsame over veteran council member Robert Lilligren because, “I want someone who will help new immigrants to become who they want to be.” For Mayor, Adeed said he planned to vote for Mark Andrew.

Somali voters also headed to the polls at the Phillips Community Center. Among those showing up was Barkhad Timir, who didn’t vote because he lives in Chicago, but came to town to work on the Warsame campaign. “The campaign is not just local.,” he said.

Also at Philips Community Center was an Anishinabe voter named Sunny Pequette, who as she was walking toward the building hadn’t decided who to vote for. In the past, she had voted for whomever her grandfather had voted for, but now she planned to make up her mind once she got inside.

Virginia Jones, and African American woman, said she voted for the candidate that would be able to provide more low-income housing.

On the Northside, at Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, Annette Davis came to the polls with her grandson, Joshua. She said her main issues were education, crime, health and discrimination, and believed that Mark Andrew was the best mayoral candidate to solve these problems. For City Council, she was thinking of voting for Blong Yang, in part because he is a minority himself.

Weston Berry-Belton, an African American man, hadn’t made up his mind. “Nobody’s grabbed me,” he said.

Meanwhile, Justin Dempsey said he was voting for mayoral hopeful Jackie Cherryhomes, because she lives two doors down from him. He chose Don Samuels as his second pick, because he wants a leader that understands North Side issues.

St Paul: Coleman Easily Re-elected
St Paul voters also had their first meaningful encounter with RCV (the city used the system for City Council elections in 2009), with a very close contest unfolding in Ward One, the city’s core, where voters were picking a replacement for Council member Melvin Carter, who resigned to take a state post last summer. Dai Thao, an IT manager and poet, held a small lead over Carter aide Noel Nix after the first count in the ward, which traditionally is the only ward represented by a person of color.

In the St Paul Mayor’s race, Chris Coleman easily won a third four-year term, winning almost 80 percent of the first-preference votes in an election that featured a very low turnout of just 14 percent of the voters casting ballots.

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