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Expect final Minneapolis mayoral results Wednesday after ranked-choice voting

Four years ago, it took three weeks to count the votes. This time, we should know the new mayor sometime on that Wednesday and all other results by Friday.

This time, we should know the winners and losers in the mayor’s race sometime on Wednesday and all of the other results by that Friday.

Forget your Election Night victory party in Minneapolis and think instead of scheduling your party sometime later in the week.

But voters should know the results sooner than they did in 2009, when it took nearly three weeks to determine the winners in the first city election to use ranked-choice voting.

This time, we should know the winners and losers in the mayor’s race sometime on Wednesday and all of the other results by that Friday.

“On Election Night, we will only be counting the results of people’s first ranked choices,” said City Clerk Casey Carl, who explained that, by state law, officials are required to count the races in the order in which they appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

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They will start with the mayor’s race, move on to the City Council races (in an order yet to be determined) and then count the Board of Estimate and Taxation, Park Board at Large and finish up with Park Board by District.

Before the counting begins, they will establish a threshold number of votes a candidate in each race will need to be declared a winner with only the results of the first-choice votes. That threshold will be based on the number of ballots cast, not votes, and will be higher than the usual standard of 50 percent plus one.

“It’s a falsely inflated threshold so that if someone passes that higher threshold we know definitively that it is mathematically impossible for another candidate in that race to defeat them,”said Carl. If no candidate in a race reaches the threshold, the election clerks will declare that a runoff is required.

“We have an obligation for accuracy first,” said Carl of the threshold, which he notes is driving some of the campaign people “Looney Tunes.” 

The inflated threshold will prevail only on Election Night. “My best guess is that by 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock, at the latest, we will have completed all of the counting of the first-choice rankings in every race.”  

On the afternoon after the election, they will begin counting second and third choices — the runoff process — starting with the race for mayor. Carl said he expects to finish the mayor’s race on Wednesday.

On Election Night, the totals from all 117 city precincts will be transmitted wirelessly to the Hennepin County Elections Division, which will then send them to both the Minneapolis Elections Office and to the Secretary of State’s Office.

At the same time, the paper ballots will be transported to the Elections Training Center and Warehouse, where they will be secured as a backup to the electronic system.

The secretary of state’s staff will post the raw numbers on the department’s website as they are received. This will allow anyone with a calculator to add up the first-, second- and third-choice votes for any candidate and come up with a “winner.”  But that result might not be accurate.

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That’s because under-votes, over-votes and voter intent come into play.

If a voter doesn’t list a first choice but does choose a second and third choice, that second choice will be counted as a first choice, and the third choice will move up to second.

“Say you rank someone as your first choice, you don’t rank anyone your second choice, and you rank someone your third choice, then you have under-voted in that race,” said Carl. The voting machine will capture that there is no vote in column two.

“We’ll have to normalize that ballot according to our voter-intent rules,” said Carl.  Those rules in Minneapolis mirror state statutes that require a ballot to be counted if it is possible to determine voter intent.

Because ranked-choice voting is not covered by state statute, Carl said, the City Council established the rules for voter intent in 2009 and updated the rules this year.

“In the past, there were specific instances, for example, where if you cast a ballot with a certain type of marking on it, we just threw it out and didn’t count it,” said Carl.

The new rules place the onus on election clerks to find a way to count ballots whenever possible. “In those previous instances, when we didn’t count a ballot in 2009, we will count it in 2013.”

“In 2009, if you skipped the first column, nothing else was counted,” said Carl. “You had to vote at least for column one” in a race for any of your votes to be counted.

Back to the under-vote and how it will be normalized. The voter’s first choice will remain a first choice, and the third choice will move up and become the second choice. This is what makes calculating a winner based on the secretary of state’s raw data dicey.

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In ranked-choice voting, first choices are counted first and then, if needed, the count moves to second choices. But if a voter had no second choice, and that voter’s third choice moves to second, that is not reflected in the raw data.

The key here is that in ranked-choice voting when a winner is declared, the clerks quit counting.  If they declare a winner after tabulating the first two choices, the third choices will not be counted. But if you are looking at the secretary of state’s raw data you will not know that someone’s third choice has moved up to second and put some candidate in the win column.

An over-vote is when someone votes for too many candidates. The voting machine will catch this error, and the voter will be given a chance to try again.

Minneapolis election judges also have the ability to drop from the subsequent counts candidates who have no opportunity for a victory, which makes the raw data even less likely to be reliable.

With 35 candidates in the race for mayor, it is likely that some of them will not receive many votes. They can be dropped, and their votes no longer tabulated in runoffs, based on both the number of votes they receive and the spread between their totals or percentages, compared with others in the same race.

“The spread between the majority who are going to continue on and those who aren’t has to be so extensive that we feel very comfortable we can defeat them and move on,” said Carl, who added that the decision to drop a candidate from the counting process will be made on an individual basis but that more than one candidate could be dropped in any of the rounds of counting.

City Council races will be counted after the winner is declared in the mayor’s race. The order in which those races will be counted will be determined Oct. 29 during a 10 a.m. public accuracy test of voting machines at the elections training center at 732 Harding St. NE.  The order for counting Park District races also will be determined at that meeting.

Unlike a recount where ballots are examined in public, ballot counting in this election will take place in a private secured area at City Hall. There will be an area in the rotunda where vote tallies will be posted, but the information first will first be made public on the Minneapolis elections website.