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Ranked-choice election leads to recount in St. Paul ward

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Jim Ivey and Dave Thune
Green Party challenger Jim Ivey and incumbent Ward 2 council member Dave Thune met in downtown St. Paul on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 as their election battle headed for a runoff next week. Ranked choice voting is likely to pick one of them to win the seat.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Ranked choice voting is getting another real-world test in a Twin Cities election. Tuesday's election was the first time residents in St. Paul used the new election system, and the outcome in one ward in the city is headed for a runoff. 

None of the five candidates who ran for city council in St. Paul's 2nd Ward won a majority of the votes in Tuesday's election. The top three vote-getters -- incumbent Dave Thune and challengers Jim Ivey and Bill Hosko -- proceed to a recount next Monday. 

Elections officials will hand count about 5,300 ballots cast at several polling places, including downtown, on the West Side, and from the West 7th and Grand Avenue neighborhoods.

Thune is in his second stint on the City Council, serving for nearly 16 years total. He got the most first-place votes, about 2,100. But at 39 percent, that wasn't enough for him to be re-elected outright.  

Green party candidate Jim Ivey is Thune's strongest opposition, with 1,400 first place votes -- about 26 percent of the first round of results. Bill Hosko is third, with about 25 percent.

That means voters' second choices will decide the ultimate result.

Casting votes
A sheet explaining ranked choice voting was available to voters at the Merriam Park Recreation Center in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Ivey has what looks like an edge. With about 1,300 second-place votes, he has a 4-3 edge over Thune among second-choice designations. But according to Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky, it's not that simple. 

"Because we know that not every ballot has a second choice,"Mansky said. "More to the point, the lowest-ranked candidates get counted first, meaning they have the greatest impact on the results."

That means the reallocation will be a ballot-by-ballot battle, watched over by the candidates' supporters in St. Paul.

Mansky says he expects the recount process to be completed in one day, in contrast to the 18-day tabulation that followed Minnesota's first major ranked choice election in Minneapolis in 2009. Four races in the Minneapolis city election went to a second round, including two City Council wards and two seats on the Park Board.

Those elections returned three incumbents to their seats. The fourth was an open spot on the Park Board.

In St. Paul, though, the votes could be in place for an upset.

Ivey said he specifically targeted voters who might support the candidates who could be considered long shots, including conservative Cynthia Schanno, perennial candidate Sharon Anderson and frame shop owner Bill Hosko.

"A lot of my second-choice votes are going to come from Dave, and those aren't going to mean anything," said Ivey. "But if I got more than, say, 700 of those 1,200 second-choice votes from Hosko and Schanno and Anderson, I've got a shot."

Ivey said his campaign included mailings explaining how voters could shift their support to him in a second round of vote counting.

Thune conceded that he'd hoped to win re-election in the first round of balloting. Although he's faced several of his rivals before, the Green party challenge may be his toughest battle yet. He acknowledged that he didn't have a strategy specifically designed for the ranked-choice system. 

"We figured we were going to be in first place, so second choice doesn't really matter to us," said Thune. "The other thing is the difficulty of finding and identifying people that you can appeal to a second choice for. We certainly weren't going to spend a whole mailing saying 'Gee, vote for Jim Ivey and me.'"

Thune was first elected in 1990, and served eight years on the City Council. He stepped down then, but ran again six years later and won. He last won re-election in 2007.

The other six seats on the St. Paul City Council have already been decided. DFL-endorsed candidate Chris Tolbert won an open seat in Ward 3, and newcomer Amy Brendmoen unseated two-term incumbent Lee Helgen on the city's North End. 

Incumbents Dan Bostrom, Melvin Carter, Russ Stark and Council President Kathy Lantry were all re-elected.