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This year's city elections sort of lived up to Minnesota’s reputation for high voter turnout

St. Paul polling place
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

On Tuesday, more than 104,000 Minneapolitans and 61,000 St. Paulites cast a ballot indicating their top-choice candidate for mayor of their city — far more than turned out in either city to elect the mayor in 2013.

For turnout boosters who puzzle over how Minnesota’s turnout could be so high in presidential and midterm elections and so low in Twin Cities municipal races (hint: it probably has to do with the fact they’re held in odd years), that’s good news.

In St. Paul’s open-seat mayor’s race, 10 candidates competed to replace outgoing mayor Chris Coleman, who is running for governor. At 30 percent of voting-age citizens, turnout in St. Paul was nearly double 2013’s and the highest since 2005, when 33 percent of voting-age citizens turned out for the election. That year, Coleman won his first term by beating incumbent mayor Randy Kelly. But as Coleman was elected to subsequent terms, turnout in mayoral races slumped. By 2013, it was at a low of 16 percent, or 30,518 first-choice votes.

In Minneapolis, a heated contest between incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges and 15 challengers may have helped account for the fact that 34 percent of citizens of voting age turned out to vote, the highest share since 2001, when R.T. Rybak defeated Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. (On Wednesday, Minneapolis issued a press release saying that 42.45 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the election — a different measure of turnout.) The last mayoral go-around in 2013, when 35 candidates competed to succeed Rybak, saw 28 percent of citizens of voting age cast a total of 79,174 ballots for mayor.

Voter turnout for mayor in Minneapolis and St. Paul
Voter turnout in Minneapolis and St. Paul is generally at or below the national average, which academics have placed between 27 and 34 percent of eligible voters turning out in municipal races. Reports use votes for mayor as a percentage of citizens of voting age and did not include data for St. Paul for 1993 or 1997.
Source: "Campaigns, Mobilization, and Turnout in Mayoral Elections (2013)," Who Votes for Mayor, Minnesota Secretary of State, Census Bureau

Municipal turnout is pretty low in most major U.S. cities, according to Who Votes for Mayor, a project by researchers at Portland State University. There are exceptions to that rule, though, in cities like Portland and Louisville. In the former, municipal elections fall during presidential years, in the latter, during midterm years. Turnout in recent races for mayor in those cities were 59 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

On Tuesday, St. Paul’s turnout as a share of voting-age citizens was on par with Boston, while Minneapolis’ turnout, at 34 percent, was on par with Chicago.

While turnout was higher this year than in 2013, the patterns of turnout — which wards had higher and lower vote totals —remained roughly the same as the 2013 race, with more affluent neighborhoods in both cities tending to vote in higher numbers.

Who voted for mayor?

City wards are drawn to have equal population, based on the last Census in 2010. This doesn’t mean they have equal populations that are eligible to vote, though — some wards may have relatively higher numbers of people under the age of eighteen or who are ineligible to vote for other reasons. We don’t have data for the number of eligible voters in each ward, so keep that in mind when considering the number of votes cast per ward.

In Minneapolis, first-choice votes for mayor were distributed like this:

  • Ward 13, Southwest Minneapolis, contributed 11 percent of first-choice votes for mayor, making it the biggest influencer in terms of the mayoral vote two elections in a row. Both Tom Hoch and Jacob Frey received more first-choice votes in this ward than Betsy Hodges, who represented the area on the city council before she was elected mayor.
  • Southeast Minneapolis’ Ward 12 accounted for 10 percent of first-choice votes for mayor, putting it in second for the second election in a row.
  • Northeast Minneapolis’ Ward 3 had the third highest number of first-choice votes for mayor on Tuesday, up from fifth highest in 2013, with 9 percent compared to 8 percent in 2013. Ward 11, in south-central Minneapolis, and Ward 7, from downtown to Lake of the Isles, also contributed 9 percent of first-choice votes.
  • Ward 1, which includes parts of Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis, Ward 8, Central, Lyndale and Kingfield, and Ward 10, including Carag and Whitter, had 8 percent of first-choice votes for mayor — roughly equivalent to their share of the city’s population.
  • Six percent of votes came from Ward 2 and Ward 6 near the University of Minnesota and from Cedar-Riverside to Stevens Square, respectively.
  • Five percent of votes came from Ward 9, Phillips and Midtown, and Ward 4, in the Camden area. Neighborhoods in Phillips and North Minneapolis also had low vote totals in 2013.
  • The lowest turnout of any ward was in Ward 5, in North Minneapolis, where 4 percent of citizens of voting age cast a first-choice vote for mayor.

In St. Paul, the first-choice votes for mayor by ward were:

  • Again as in 2013, Ward 3, covering the Highland Park and Mac-Groveland area, was the victor for most ballots cast, with 24 percent —nearly a quarter —of first-choice mayoral votes. Melvin Carter received more votes here than Pat Harris, the area’s former city council member.
  • Nineteen percent of votes came from Ward 4, the Hamline-Midway and St. Anthony Park areas.
  • Downtown and westside Ward 2 residents contributed 16 percent of first-choice votes.
  • Ward 1, Summit-University and Thomas-Dale/Frogtown, made up 13 percent of votes. Melvin Carter, who formerly represented the area on the City Council, received more votes here than Dai Thao, the sitting council member who came in third overall in the race.
  • Ward 5, including the North End and parts of Como, accounted for 10 percent of first-choice votes.
  • As in 2013, the lowest turnout came from Ward 7, Dayton’s Bluff and southeast St. Paul, and Ward 6, greater East St. Paul and parts of Payne-Phalen, each with 9 percent of votes. In Ward 6, Thao received more votes than any other candidate (he received four more than Carter), making it the only ward where Carter didn’t get more votes than any other candidate.

To see maps showing which candidates did well in which city wards, see our stories from Minneapolis and St. Paul. And here are comparable turnout maps from 2013.

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Comments (1)

St. Paul Elections

Turnout in Saint Paul may have been higher if we didn't have this stupid system where the mayor and city council both have 4 year terms, but are not elected in the same year. The only purpose for this is so someone on the city council can run for mayor and without risking their council seat. All of these offices should be elected in an even year election.

Also, there is no reason for the school board to have 4 year terms with 3 or 4 seats up every other year. Hold these elections in even years. Do we really need elections EVERY year?