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What you need to know about voting and following election results in Minneapolis (and St. Paul)

A quick guide to what’s on the ballot, how ranked-choice voting works — and when to expect results.

A detail from the 2021 Minneapolis municipal election ballot.
A detail from the 2021 Minneapolis municipal election ballot.

Minneapolis’ big election is Tuesday, and while a record number of residents have already voted early by mail or in-person, city staff are expecting many Minneapolitans to vote on election day.

Here’s a quick guide to what’s on the ballot [PDF], how Minneapolis’ ranked-choice voting system works and when to expect results.

Help! I haven’t done any research. Where can I find out where to vote, what’s on my ballot and what the candidates and issues are about?

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Polling Place Finder website tells you where your polling place is. Its What’s on my ballot feature allows you to enter your address and see exactly what your ballot looks like so you can do your research ahead of time.

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The Star Tribune also has a voter guide compiling candidates’ answers to questions about issues, plus information on the ballot measures. The League of Women Voters has links to several candidate forums.

How do I do ranked-choice voting?

In Minneapolis races with ranked-choice voting, this system simply gives you the option to rank three candidates instead of choosing just one like you would in a traditional election (although you still can choose one or two).

In that way, the ranked-choice system can give voters some leeway to vote for their favorite candidate without being as strategic about the process: if your favorite candidate gets eliminated and you have a second choice, your vote will go to that candidate. If your second-choice gets eliminated, your vote goes to the third. If all the candidates you choose are eliminated, your ballot is “exhausted.”

Advocates of RCV say the ability to pick multiple candidates makes for a better voting process, while opponents say it’s needlessly confusing because it’s hard for voters to learn about and distinguish between so many candidates.

If I only like one candidate for an office, can I rank the same person three times? 

You can, but there really isn’t any reason to. Doing so is effectively the same as ranking the candidate once, as your first choice. If they advance, they advance, but if they don’t, your vote is exhausted. It won’t count as a second or third choice for the candidate.

Think of it like this: You go to a restaurant and order walleye for dinner. If they have walleye, great, you’re having walleye! If they’re out of the walleye and you keep ordering walleye, you’re still not going to get walleye.

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What happens if I rank nobody first?

If you rank nobody first, your second choice gets a promotion to first. If you rank nobody first or second, your third choice gets a promotion to first.

How do they figure out who wins in a ranked-choice race?

If one candidate in the race wins more than 5o percent of the first-choice votes, that candidate is the winner (or unofficial winner — election results aren’t final until they’re canvassed a little after the election).

This happened with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter when he won his first term in 2017, when results were counted after the polls closed and Carter had a clear majority of the first-choice votes, eliminating the need to go to ranked choices.

If no candidate reaches that threshold, the ranked-choice tabulation process begins. That process works like this:

First, all the candidates with so few votes that they have no mathematical possibility of winning are eliminated. In 2017, all but five of the 18 candidates for mayor (plus all the write-ins) were eliminated due to not having a mathematical shot at winning. The second choices of the voters who cast these ballots are then reallocated to the remaining candidates, or their third-choices if none of their second-choice candidates remain in contention.

In 2017, those second-choice votes were allocated to five candidates who were still in the race: Jacob Frey, Tom Hoch, Betsy Hodges, Ray Dehn and Nekima Levy Armstrong.

If no candidate yet has reached the threshold to win, another round of ranked-choice tabulation starts. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those ballots are reallocated according to each voter’s next choice. In 2017, Nekima Levy Armstrong was eliminated at this point in the process, and votes reallocated according to preferences ranked on the ballot to the remaining four.

This process continues until one candidate has enough votes to win — either more than 50 percent of the vote or, if there are only two candidates left (in an election for a single seat), the candidate who has the most votes wins. In 2017, there were a couple additional rounds: Hoch was eliminated and votes reallocated, followed by Hodges, leaving Dehn and Frey. Frey had more votes and was declared the winner.

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What about when there’s an election that elects multiple people, like Minneapolis Park Board at large? How does RCV work there?

The same, except the threshold to win is 33.33 percent plus one vote for two-seat races (two candidates win), like the at-large Board of Estimate and Taxation seat, and 25 percent plus one vote for the three seat at-large Park Board races (three candidates win).

When will we find out who wins?

Probably not immediately in many races.

Results will start to come in soon after the polls close, but don’t make too much of those results because they don’t reflect the ranked-choice process.

In most cases with ranked-choice voting, the candidate who has the most votes after the first round — even if it’s not enough to win without it going to ranked-choice tabulation — ends up being the winner after subsequent tabulating rounds. But not always.

In some cases — it happened in an Oakland, California mayoral race in 2010 and in two Minneapolis city council races in 2017 — a candidate can come in second in first-choice votes but end up ahead as lower-performing candidates are eliminated and their votes are reallocated to other candidates ranked on those ballots.

That’s why the City of Minneapolis will only declare winners (unofficially — the results aren’t final until the canvassing process is complete) if it’s clear a candidate has enough votes that there’s no way anyone else could win. But because of ranked-choice voting, if it’s close — or even close to close — another candidate could potentially come from behind to win.

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Aaron Grossman, elections administrator for Minneapolis, said ranked-choice tabulation should begin around 8 a.m. Wednesday. The mayor’s race will start first, followed by council races in an order drawn randomly, followed by the Board of Estimate and Taxation, then the at-large Park Board, then the Park Board districts, in an order drawn randomly. Winners may not be announced in that order.

When results are announced will depend on how the votes go — if the city isn’t able to eliminate a big batch of candidates at once for a race, there will be more rounds to work through.

“We’ll go until we’re able to announce all the results completely and accurately,” Grossman said. “I would hope that … we’d have the mayor’s race by afternoon and most of the council races by the end of the day.”

In 2017, Frey was announced the winner of the mayoral election shortly before 2 p.m. on the day after Election Day.

Where can I keep tabs on results?

MinnPost’s live election results dashboard can be found on its homepage starting on election night. Again, don’t try to interpret first-round results too zealously. The City of Minneapolis will be posting ranked-choice updates on its social media channels, Grossman said.

“Definitely a day for setting up Twitter notifications,” he said. Here’s the Minneapolis Elections Twitter account.

What about the charter amendments?

We probably will know the outcome of the three ballot measures on election night. Reminder: that’s the city’s government structure amendment, the public safety amendment and the rent control amendment.

Because of a state law that requires charter amendments in charter cities (e.g. Minneapolis) to have at least 51 percent to pass, the winning side here needs to meet that threshold. No, 50.5 percent doesn’t count. Votes left blank won’t be factored into the count, unlike in Minnesota constitutional questions where blanks are counted as “no.”

What about St. Paul?

It’s probably going to be a slightly more ho-hum night in St. Paul. The big things on the ballot are the mayor’s race, the rent stabilization ordinance and the school board races. We’re likely to know the outcome of all these things on election night.

In St. Paul this year, only the mayor’s race is a ranked-choice affair, and in this burg, voters get six choices. That’s not likely to factor into election results in St. Paul, though. With no serious challengers, Mayor Melvin Carter is expected to win pretty quickly and decisively, likely winning enough votes so it won’t even go to tabulation.

There are school board races on the ballot in St. Paul and a rent stabilization ordinance. Whichever side of the rent stabilization debate in St. Paul receives more votes will win.

Here’s the Strib’s St. Paul voter guide.

This was piece was originally published on Oct. 29.