For the first time in the city's history, Minneapolis will be using instant runoff voting, also called ranked choice voting, in its local election on Nov. 3.
That means voters, candidates, election officials and the media will notice some changes. The city is trying to inform the public about the new system through a combination of door-knocking and public meetings. But so far, only a handful of residents have shown up.
Earlier this week, Mike Dean from the city's elections department prepared to make an IRV presentation at the Bottineau Library. He set up a projector and a laptop computer and waited for someone to show up. A reporter with a microphone turned out to be his sole audience member.
"Thank you all for coming. My name is Mike Dean..."
Dean said the city sent literature through the mail to let voters know about the meetings, but they didn't go out on time. He said the city's budget for IRV education is $75,000 -- which is about one-tenth of what the city of San Francisco spent when it rolled out its new IRV system several years ago.
Dean said Minneapolis likely would have spent more, if not for budget restrictions caused by the sagging economy.
City elections officials have gone door to door to talk to residents in precincts where voters make more mistakes on their ballots. The city also scheduled 14 public sessions like this one.
Dean's presentation covers the basics about how ranked-choice voting works. Voters can rank their top choices among the candidates running for offices such as mayor, City Council and the Park Board.
The next night, Dean made the same presentation to a larger group -- four community residents and two reporters.
Dean explained that the biggest change in the system will be how the votes are counted, particularly for multiple seat races. It involves surplus ballots, dividing the extra ballots into fractions and redistributing them to other candidates.
Confused? So was Malcolm Collins, who will work as an election judge. He asked how he will know where his vote ends up if he doesn't get his first choice.
Dean explained that the ballot counters will follow his preferences for his first choice, then second choice, and so on.
The city's elections department will hold more meetings through next week about the new voting system.
But they also expect to hear a lot more questions like these at the polls. They also expect to see more errors and requests for new ballots. The city has plans to beef up staff at the polls to answer questions, and they've stocked up on extra ballots.
This is new terrority for candidates and for people who cover the election. That's because for some races the winners and losers won't be immediately clear. The counting process is one of the most complicated parts of instant runoff voting and will have to be done by hand.
The city's interim elections director, Pat O'Connor, said the ballot machines will have a tally on election night, but it will only be preliminary.
"I would caution you, look only at the first-choice numbers that you see. I don't think there's anything you can conclude from the second- and third-choice numbers," said O'Connor. "Because in order to infer anything from those two columns, you have to link those choices together."
And it will take a hand count to do that, because the machines aren't programmed to.
However, O'Connor says on Election Night, those first-choice numbers may be very revealing.
"If you see that a particular candidate in a race has a profound majority, that's a pretty good indication that likely, after the hand count, they'll go on to be the successful candidate," he said.
The city will begin the hand count the day after the election. Workers will count ward by ward, working six days a week, until all the races are counted. They expect to have an official count for all the races by the end of December.