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2013 election: In Minneapolis, a game changer; in St. Paul, the status quo

Betsy Hodges posing with supporters
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Betsy Hodges posing with supporters during her Election Night campaign party.

The mayoral elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul could not have been any more different. One was loud and unscripted, the other peaceful and predictable. Both spoke to the character of the two cities and what they mean for their futures. Minneapolis’ election was a generation changer preparing the city for the future, while in St. Paul it was an endorsement of the status quo holding the city in the past. But in both cases, ranked-choice voting (RCV) successfully did its job.

schultz portrait
David Schultz

Critics were wrong when it came to RCV. With RCV and 35 mayoral candidates in Minneapolis, skeptics contended that voters would not be smart enough or would be overwhelmed in their ability to process the information needed to make intelligent choices. There were worries of spoiled ballots, disenfranchisement of the poor and people of color, or widespread dissatisfaction with RCV. That did not happen. Why? 

Minneapolis learned from experience. Four years ago, when Minneapolis first used RCV, I was asked by the City Elections Department to evaluate implementation of the new voting method. My report’s biggest concern was evidence of some voter confusion, but the recommendation was better voter education. The city responded with a great voter-education program; this election significantly reduced voter error and spoiled ballots. Moreover, in St. Paul, part of why the election ran without a hitch is that they, too, learned from the 2009 Minneapolis experiences. For critics of government who say it cannot learn, Minneapolis and St. Paul did, and the results paid off.

Top 6 received nearly 90% of vote

Voters in Minneapolis learned how to adjust to 35 candidates on the ballot. The top six candidates received nearly 90 percent of the total votes cast. Voters demonstrated a capacity to gather information and select candidates whom they preferred and were deemed viable. Moreover, worries that voters would select only vanity candidates and not vote for someone who was one of the finalists also were unnecessary; such voting seemed largely negligible.

In short, the theoretical and hypothetical worries that the election system would break down did not occur. As a bonus, the Minneapolis experience confirmed a trend from around the country – RCV discourages attacks on opponents, more civil campaigns, and the potential for more cooperation during and perhaps after elections.

Beyond vindicating RCV, the elections in the two cities spoke hugely of their futures and characters.

Minneapolis’s election was about a generational change. It was the older DFL being replaced by a new generation of Democrats. The old labor-led, white establishment DFL lined up behind Mark Andrew, while the new demographics of a racially and politically changing city boosted Hodges.

A generational shift in Minneapolis, not in St. Paul

Andrew was like Frank Skeffington – Edwin O’Connor’s fictional old-line Democrat mayor in "The Last Hurrah" who loses a re-election bid because he does not realize times have changed and he has not. Andrew is a solid and noble DFLer, but he is old school at a time when Minneapolis is changing. With Hodges as mayor and seven new council members, Minneapolis is set for the shift to the future with a new agenda for a new constituency. If Barack Obama in 2008 represented the transition from baby boomer to Gen X and Millennial politics at the national level, this is what happened on Tuesday in Minneapolis.

Not so in St Paul. Chris Coleman is perhaps the last mayor of the old St. Paul DFL. He is part of the old Irish Catholic DFL constituency that his father represented. He represents the past of an insular DFL Party that still controls the city with many council members still playing old-school politics. It is the coalition of traditional labor unions and party insiders. It is the politics of downtown ballpark stadiums and public subsidies for economic development projects. Coleman does not really have an agenda for the future. He is like Robert Redford’s character in "The Candidate" – elected but asking the question, “What do we do now?”  Coleman is the mayor of baby boomers seeking to hang on one more time.

In some ways, the people of both cities got what they wanted, or at least elected mayors suited to their personalities. Minneapolis is the hip, cool, and forward city looking to the future. St. Paul is more stodgy, less prone to change, and more stuck in tradition than its sister across the Mississippi. The mayoral elections represent a tale of two cities and a contrast in the way they handled changing generational politics.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University and the 2013 Leslie A. Whittington national award winner for excellence in public-affairs teaching.

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Comments (25)

Unserious candidates

What are the current proposals for revising the low filing threshhold for running for mayor?

My son suggested that there be a substantial but not prohibitive filing fee -- say $500 or $1000 -- and that each dollar of the fee can be "paid" for by a valid signature on a petition. So an underfunded candidate who can mobilize 500 or 1000 signatures can run, but the frivolous vanity candidate would have to make a more significant investment to feed his or her ego.

Beg to differ

Mr Schultz wrote: "..skeptics contended that voters would not be smart enough or would be overwhelmed in their ability to process the information needed to make intelligent choices."

As one of those skeptics, I don't remember anyone contending anything of the sort. I remember the contention that potential voters could feel that processing the information was not worth their time, particularly with the blandness of the debates.

How do the apples-to-apples turnout numbers compare between this election and the Rybak v. Sayles-Belton election? The raw numbers have about 9000 fewer votes this time, I believe. That would be a 10% lower vote total.

I just don't know what we got out of the RCV system in this election. In my mind all of the changes were negative, particularly the length of time needed to get the results.

If the actual turnout percentage was significantly lower in this election, I would have to label it a failure.

Turnout was low all over the country,...

...as generally happens in "off-year" elections.

David Schultz has written columns here, and performed a study for the City of Minneapolis, about turnout in general and the RCV influence on turnout in particular.

He has concluded that RCV has little effect on turnout.

That excuse doesn 't work

The Rybak - Sales-Belton race was also in an off year, as are all Minneapolis elections.

Here's some history for context

# of Minneapolis voters participating in municipal elections by year:

1993 103,846
1997 95,546
2001 89,260
2005 70,273
2009 46,380
2013 79,000+

Source: http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/messages/topic/1qJlbmW9KBwdguY... This kind of info should be easy to find, but it's not.

The 2009 election stands out from this series, but there is an unmistakable downward trend in participation since the '90s, long before RCV.

But...

City population was shrinking during part of that time, so the number of registered voters was getting smaller. 2005 and 2009 had Rybak running in less contested races, which also would have suppressed turnout, hence the interest in a comparison between 2001 and 2013 on a percentage basis. Apparently, RCV didn't help turnout to any great extent.

I'm confident RCV has little to do with turnout,...

...not of no influence at all, but just not very influential. So I agree that RCV didn't help turnout to any great extent - and I doubt it hurt it to any great extent, just as well.

The proponents of RCV who've claimed it will boost turnout are over-reaching; likewise those who blame a perceived low turnout on RCV.

The fact is that many years ago, turnout was higher than today. In the same source cited above, "turnout was... 32.8 percent in 1937 (161713/492370)."

That's 32% of total population in 1937 - compared with around 24% or so now (79000/329000). So both population and turnout have declined over time.

Typo: around 20% turnout today, rather than 24%...

...of total population. I mistyped the denominator of total population as 329k rather than the more correct 392k.

79000/392000 = 20.1 %

David Schultz is not...

... an impartial person on this topic. He is clearly a fan of RCV, just as he is clearly not a fan of Chris Coleman. So you'll excuse me if I am a skeptic about his conclusions.

We should be able to compare year-to-year election turnout in Miinneapolis and look for reasons for differences. The mayoral elections always come in off-years, so that shouldn't be a factor. If this is a particularly low-turnout in a competitive year, how is RCV not a factor?

Schultz

Is not just a supporter of RCV, he is on the advisory counsel of Fairvote Minnesota, which receives taxpayer money to educate people about RCV.

High quality journalism?

Chris Coleman is certainly not just "seeking to hang on one more time." He was overwhelmingly re-elected for a third-term against token opposition. If the people of St. Paul really felt he had no agenda and did not know what do to, this would not have happened

Next time, try real journalism instead of throwing together a bunch of tired political stereotypes.

Clarification

To Dan Hintz and all, I am not on the board of Fair Vote Minnesota but I do not hide the fact that I support RCV and have done op-eds about it, including with Senator Durenburger. However, I also drafted a report that provided a fair and critical analysis of RCV in Minneapolis in 2009. Simply saying I support RCV and then dismissing my comments is the most simplistic or all argumentative techniques, not much better that simply responding by calling someone a jerk. If you disagree with someone offer evidence and marshal evidence, do not simply emote or retort.

Weird response

I did not claim that you were on the board of FairVote Minnesota. I said that you were on the advisory counsel. If that isn't true, then you had better contact FairVote and tell them to update their website.

http://fairvotemn.org/council

Its not just saying that you support RCV. It is that you are affiliated with an organization that pushes for encactment of RCV, and receives taxpayer money to educate people about RCV. If you are going to write an analysis piece about the election and include a discussion of RCV, I think you are ethically bound to disclose where you are coming from.

And Mr. Schultz, I just have to laugh at someone calling others out for using simplistic argumentative techniques and failing to offer evidence, right after stating something like this:

"Coleman does not really have an agenda for the future. He is like Robert Redford’s character in "The Candidate" – elected but asking the question, “What do we do now?” Coleman is the mayor of baby boomers seeking to hang on one more time."

That's some good stuff. Very persuasive.

Stay classy.

Clarification again

To Dan and all:

I am not on the FVM advisory board or on its board of directors. Furthermore, even if I were, saying FVM receives public dollars (whether it does or not I do not know) is immaterial to any analysis I made. Further "guilt by association" is not a refutation of a person's position. Simply stating one is wrong because of their affiliation (or you do not like their affiliation) is not a refutation of an argument; one still needs to show that argument or analysis is wrong. For example, at no point have I argued that those who disagree with my argument do so because they are members of the St Paul DFL or because they are Coleman supporters. Moreover, too much of the political dialogue in our society is based upon notions that declare because a Republican or a Democrat said it is must be wrong. Arguments should be evaluated based on the merits of arguments and not on the identity or affiliation of speakers. Finally, I stand by my statement--Coleman lacked an agenda for a third term beyond stay the course. His election was one for the status quo.

Fairvote

So are you saying that the Fairvote Minnesota website is wrong? That they have mistakenly listed you as a member of their advisory council?

Thanks for casting some light here, as...

...we have more than enough heat already !!

Schultz gets it right

I think David Schultz's analysis of what took place in the Minneapolis and St. Paul mayoral races is as good an explanation as any in terms of what these elections represent for the respective cities. Sorry, Mr. Hintz, but Chris Coleman has no vision for St. Paul and is, in fact, hanging on for four more years. Yes, we didn't produce any credible candidates to challenge Coleman for mayor, but that only proves that we have a lot of work to do over here to change the culture of insider politics--rather than it being an endorsement of Coleman. After all, less than 15% of voters turned out; that means 12% of the voters support Chris Coleman for sure. The other 85%? We have no idea. Unfortunately, we have to tolerate four more years of Coleman's mediocrity--unless enough people get fed up and we utilize the recall powers in our city charter, or Coleman resigns early to do something else.

Seriously?

Given that Coleman has been re-elected twice by huge margins would suggest that St. Paul residents are quite satisfied with his vision or lack thereof. The fact that there were no credible opponents this time around is further evidence of his support. To use terms like "hanging on" and to talk about recall powers is just silly.

And using your calculations, if Betsy Hodges got less than half of the 30 percent of registered voters in Minneapolis, doesn't that then mean only 15 percent support her for sure?

Mediocrity?

Subjective to say the least. I would say that the people who feel this way have had more than enough time to mount some sort of challenge with a viable candidate since 2005. Coleman captured 69% of the vote in both 2005 and 2009. Perhaps you can expand on any alternative vision for the city that actually exists? I would venture to say that if it were relevant, whatever "it" might be, the other 85% might care. At this point, I'm going to assume that a healthy cross-section of that 85% are content enough with what Coleman has done for St. Paul.

RCV defenders will defend it no matter what the results

David Schultz was a witness for Fair Vote when they lost an unfair campaign practice charge in the 2009 campaign in Saint Paul. Fair Vote was found to have claimed endorsements from people an organizations that they knew they did not have and knew they should not use... and Schultz tried to save them. He hardly is a "fair" voice on the issue.

The fact is that over 20% of the people who went to the polls on Tuesday did not cast a vote in the final round of counting. 686 of them cast no vote for mayor at all and more than 15,500 of them ended up in the exhausted pile.

The best one can tell from the numbers they showed last night about 1/2 of the voters who selected the strongest African American candidate as their first choice did not have a vote in the final round of counting. Folks like Schultz would like you to believe that given the choice between Hodges and Andrew those Samuelson voters would have stayed home.

I don't buy it and view RCV is just one more effort to repress the vote from people that people like Schultz doesn't want their vote to count.

RCV opponents never tire of ad hominem attacks.

I guess you must not have read Mr. Schultz's replies, or perhaps prefer to ignore them. He states quite clearly,

"Arguments should be evaluated based on the merits of arguments and not on the identity or affiliation of speakers."

But HE is talking about rational discourse.

To disparage or villify Mr. Schultz does not in any way contradict his points or argument.

BTW, the 15,500 exhausted votes were all for DEFEATED candidates - defeated in the orderly process of RCV. They could not possibly win the election. What are you saying about these votes, EXACTLY ? That they didn't count ? They most certainly WERE counted, laboriously and in minute detail. Or are you saying they were on ballots ultimately exhausted because of some kind of conspiracy ?

Your statement, "...people like Schultz doesn't want their vote to count." appears to have absolutely no foundation whatsoever - except in your vitriol. What are "people like Schultz" like, anyway ? And how would you know what they want ?

Do you have any facts at all to support the aspersions you cast on Mr. Schultz ? Another RCV detractor recently, in the same vein as your insinuations here, in response to a thoughtful column by a Metro State professor by calling him "slippery". Can you folks do any better than this ?

RCV attackers will hate it no matter what

Mr. Repke has attacked Ranked Choice Voting since it passed in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. He blames anything he doesn't like in the elections on RCV, even if there are other explanations.

For example, he wrote, "The best one can tell from the numbers [in Minneapolis] they showed last night about 1/2 of the voters who selected the strongest African American candidate as their first choice did not have a vote in the final round of counting." But
(1) they might actually or could have had a choice in the last round -- did they just rank other candidates who were defeated, or did they freely choose NOT to rank a #2 or #3 choice?
(2) if they did rank three and those choices were defeated, was it because the City Council decided to limit choices to three?

If they didn't rank three or if they would have ranked more than three, can Mr. Repke countenance those explanations? We can find out the former. We have to speculate about the latter, but critics of RCV do plenty of that anyway.

The 686 no-Mayor-vote ballots were only 0.86% of all votes (less than 1%). What were the no-vote percentages in in previous elections for comparison? I suggest that the Council's three-ranks limit was the cause of the 15,573 exhausted ballots ( http://vote.minneapolismn.gov/results/2013/2013-mayor-tabulation ) more than anything else.

Every RCV supporter wants more voters to participate and wants them to be able to express more choices. Mr. Repke should justify his "RCV is one more effort to repress [sic] the vote" accusation with facts or evidence. There is none.

Outcomes

RCV supporters always seem unclear as to what the benefits of their pet system. It seems to me that at one time or another they have claimed it does just about everything but cure the common cold. This often leads to a lack of focus, a problem with Mr. Schulz's column above. Nominally about RCV, Mr. Schulz seems to have tired of the argument, and is now content with the claim that the candidates who are pretty good, an outcome that might very well have been achieved under the traditional voting system.

As others have noted, Mr. Schulz did bestir himself enough to create a straw man, the one about ignorant voters. Actually, even knowledgeable voters might not rank candidates. I know I don't, and a voting system that insists that I do distorts my voter intent.

Old Style Politics

Old style politics is that of ad hominem personal attacks and lies. This is what turns so many Americans off and they are asking for change. Unfortunately Chuck Repke persists in using such a tactic to argue against me.

Let me be blunt Chuck: Stop lying about me and knock off the personal attacks!

How dare you accuse me of wanting to "repress the vote" and that I of some people I do "want their vote to count." Do you have any evidence of that? Have you ever read my columns in Minnpost arguing against voter ID? Or my books or articles arguing against voter fraud? Or see me testimony at the state legislature against voter ID laws? Moreover, if you read any of it you would see that in fact I have even argued that the present caucus system discriminates against voters by masking it difficult for second shift workers and people in the military to attend? I also co-authored a report last year on the elections amendment that was used by Dayton and Carlson when they argued against voter ID. If anything, my record on wanting to extend franchise and open up the political process, including the parties, is extensive. My advocacy for RCV is also based on hope that it will encourage voting, although it is not clear whether it has any impact on turnout. Moreover, contrary to Repke, I never said that without RCV "Samuelson voters would have stayed home."

Mr. Repke also lies or bends the truth when he insinuates that I supported or endorsed "Fair Vote when they lost an unfair campaign practice charge in the 2009 campaign in Saint Paul" because they were "found to have claimed endorsements from people an organizations that they knew they did not have and knew they should not use." I have no idea what he is talking about. Yes I did appear as a witness in the case Repke brought against Fair Vote before the Office of Administrative Hearings, but my testimony was about what ranked choice voting was and not about whether Fair Vote actually claimed false endorsements or not. To the best of my recollection I had no opinion or knowledge then or now about whether they lied. If they did lie then they should have been punished for it as they were.

Overall, old style politics is the politics of lies, half truths, and personal attacks. This in part is what voters rejected in Minneapolis last week and I hope this is the lesson Mr.Repke learns. As Bob Dylan said: The times they are a changing" and the type of politics you are engaging in represent what Americans most hate.

Arguments

For someone who is lecturing others about the fallacies in their arguments, you are a true master of the red herring. You did the same thing with Mr. Repke's comment that you did with mine - respond to something he did not say instead of his actual comment.