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Ranked-choice ‘veteran’ Thune not happy with its impact on St. Paul City Council race

With seven candidates, it’s likely the Ward 1 outcome will come down to the second and third rankings, much like it did two years ago when Dave Thune won re-election.

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With the St. Paul mayor’s race likely a foregone conclusion, it’s the Ward 1 council race that will keep political junkies glued to their computers.

With seven candidates next week in St. Paul’s highly contested 1st Ward City Council race, the outcome is likely to be decided by the city’s ranked-choice voting system.

Dave Thune

And that’s too bad, says Council Member Dave Thune, who’s not running this year but has the distinction of being the only St. Paul politician so far to win a race in the extended phase of the voting system.

“The sad thing — the biggest flaw in the new system — is that voters aren’t given the chance to hear the top two candidates debate each other before the final election,” Thune said.

“To really make an informed choice, you want to hear the two finalists head to head, but here, nobody has any idea who the front-runners are and there’s no chance to hear them all because there are so many,” he said.

Ranked-choice-voting advocates, of course, say the system — which allows voters to designate first, second and third choices — is better; the Fair Vote Minnesota web site lists these advantages:

  • Upholds the principle of majority rule
  • Eliminates “wasted” votes
  • Solves the “spoiler” problem and gives voters more choice
  • Increases voter participation
  • Opens the political process to new voices
  • Promotes more diverse representation
  • Reduces negative campaigning and promotes civil, issue-oriented campaigns
  • Mitigates political polarization
  • Combines two elections in one so that voters only have to make one trip to the polls and taxpayers have to pay for only one election
  • Reduces the cost of campaigning.

But Thune, a longtime, outspoken council member, isn’t a fan of the system.

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Two years ago, his bid for re-election wasn’t decided until a week after Election Day. He’d received 39 percent of the first-rank votes on Election Night, but because it wasn’t a majority, officials the next week added the second- and third-ranked votes to the mix.

After three rounds, Thune ended up with 53 percent of the vote, making him the winner.

(He didn’t even attend the runoff; he was at his cabin and told me after the vote: “Is it over? Don’t you love ranked voting?” And he was glad he’d skipped the extra count: “Standing around watching people count would be too painful,” he said.)

Bill Hosko, a downtown St. Paul gallery owner, ended up second to Thune in the 2011 count. He says many people he’s talked to don’t like ranked-choice voting, and many don’t understand it.

“I think it was well-intentioned, but it’s not working out the way it was envisioned,” he said. “There’s no primary to screen the less serious candidates, and anyone can put the name on the ballot if they can afford the filing fee. Minneapolis is an unpleasant example of what it allows.”

Hosko’s  advice for candidates, ranked choice or not, is to knock on doors and meet the voters. “You need to talk to them face to face,” he said.

“People think there are ways of strategizing, but I don’t know,” Hosko said, noting that another candidate in the 2011 race — who reportedly urged supporters not to list a second or third choice on their ballots — saw it backfire when she didn’t end up in the top three.

This year, the mayoral election in Minneapolis, too, is likely to require extra rounds of counting, with a handful of fairly well-known candidates among the field of 35.

St. Paul’s mayor’s race, with incumbent Chris Coleman seeking his third term against four challengers, will no doubt be decided early on election night, in Coleman’s favor. Other candidates are Sharon Anderson, Tim Holden and Kurt Dornfeld and write-in candidate Ronald J. “Arjo” Adams.

It’s the Ward 1 council race that will keep St. Paul political junkies glued to their computers, updating their browsers through the night.

The winner will serve the final two years of the term of Melvin Carter III, who resigned last summer to take a job in the state education department. Nathaniel Khaliq was appointed by the council to fill the past few months in the office, but he isn’t running next week.

Those in the council race are:

  • Paul Holmgren, a Republican with the same name as a famous pro hockey player from St. Paul. He ran for the state House in 2010.
  •  Johnny Howard, a community activist who ran for council two years ago and lost to Carter.
  • Kazoua Kong-Thao, who previously served two terms on the St.Paul School Board.
  • Debbie Montgomery, who served one term on the City Council until Carter beat her in 2007. She’s a retired St. Paul police commander.
  • Noel Nix, who worked as Carter’s legislative aide in City Hall and has a master’s degree from the U of M in urban and regional planning.
  • Dai Thao, an IT manager who’s been an organizer in the Hmong community who’s also worked on legislative campaigns.
  • Mark Voerding, who works as an aide to Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman. He also served as an aide to former Ward 1 Council Member Bill Wilson.

St. Paul voters also will elect three school board members from a slate of five candidates:

  • Incumbent Board Chair Jean O’Connell.
  • John Brodrick, an incumbent and retired St. Paul social studies teacher and hockey coach.
  • Terrance Bushard, printing company founder.
  • Greg Copeland, endorsed by the St. Paul Republican City Committee.
  • Chue Vue, a St. Paul attorney with DFL endorsement.