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Which voters put Jacob Frey over the top in the Minneapolis mayoral election?

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was re-elected after one round of ranked-choice voting tabulation.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaking during a 2020 DFL Election Night gathering.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaking during a 2020 DFL Election Night gathering.
MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig

On Wednesday, the results of ranked-choice voting tabulations by the city of Minneapolis were released confirming that incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey had won re-election.

Frey had a strong lead in first-choice votes on election night, but not enough to be declared a winner right away. However, after just one round of re-allocation of votes according to the city’s procedure for tabulation ranked-choice elections, Frey had more votes than the other remaining candidate, Kate Knuth. The final total was Frey with 70,669 votes (49.1 percent) and Knuth with 55,007 votes (38.2 percent).

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So where did the second- and third-choice votes that were allocated to Frey come from? For the most part, from voters who listed one of the large number of long-shot or obscure candidates as their first (or first and second) choice. These ballots eventually added more than 5,000 votes to his total.

First choice vote of ballots that eventually counted for Jacob Frey

But Frey also picked up more than 1,500 votes from people whose first choice was Sheila Nezhad, and 1,800 from supporters of AJ Awed. (Nezhad was actually the candidate who received the second-most first round votes.)

While some Nezhad voters did choose Frey over Knuth, they were a small minority; most of the voters that chose Nezhad as their first choice picked Knuth as either a second- or third- choice. Knuth gained more than 25,000 votes after Nezhad was eliminated, nearly doubling her total. In the end, though, that was not enough to overcome Frey’s vote total.

First choice vote of ballots that eventually counted for Kate Knuth

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Of course, some ballots didn’t list Frey or Knuth as either a first, second or third choice, which means that by the final round of tabulation they were considered exhausted. There were more than 18,000 exhausted ballots in the mayoral election — which is the reason Frey won despite not winning more than 50 percent of all the ballots cast.

First choice vote of ballots that were exhausted

That Frey was leading on election night and went on to win after tabulation is typical of ranked-choice voting elections. It is possible for candidates that are behind in the first round to make up ground based on second- and third-choice votes, but it’s rare. Still, some supporters of both Nezhad and Knuth were pursuing the strategy, encouraging supporters of each to rank the other next and to not rank Frey at all.

Last week, San Francisco State University professor Jason McDaniel told MinnPost Nezhad and Knuth would likely each have to capture 20 percent to 25 percent of first-choice votes and have about 70 percent of their supporters rank the other in order to beat Frey, assuming he was the frontrunner. Nezhad got 21 percent of the first round vote, and 83 percent of her first-round voters ended up counting for Knuth. But Knuth’s first-round performance was below the threshold described by McDaniel; she got just 18 percent of first-round votes.

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