Ranked choice voting tested as St. Paul awaits winner in council race

Counting ballots
Election judges Lyle Puppe, left, and Joe Schwarz, right, watch Ramsey County elections worker Sherri Nesetth sort through ballots from the Ward 2 City Council election, as deputy city attorney Jerry Hendrickson looked on.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The debut of ranked choice voting in St. Paul left one of the seven city council wards without a clear result on Election Day: Ward 2, where runoff votes are now being counted.

Incumbent DFLer Dave Thune came out on top of initial voting, with about 2,100 first place votes. He was trailed by Green Party nominee Jim Ivey, who had 1,435 votes. But since Thune didn't have more than 50 percent of the first place votes, voter rankings will decide the race.

Now, Ramsey County elections officials are going through the returns ballot by ballot to determine voters' preferences, and will reallocate votes for people who didn't pick Thune or Ivey in the first round. Ivey leads in second place votes, but the winner isn't calculated by simple addition.

Thune is also being challenged by gallery owner Bill Hosko, business woman Cynthia Schanno and perennial candidate Sharon Anderson were also on the ballot.

Ivey's campaign manager, Jesse Mortenson, hopes his candidate will pull ahead with second-choice votes on Monday.

"We knew that there was a really strong chance that nobody would reach 50 percent on those first choice votes," Mortenson said. "And so, yes we were definitely talking people about ranked voting, encouraging people who were determined to vote for another candidate to consider Jim as their second choice, as a experienced and positive alternative."

Chuck Roepke is watching the ballot counting on behalf of Thune. Roepke has been a staunch opponent of the ranked choice voting and said this election shows why.

"I was always concerned that we'd end up having the general election on a table in Ramsey County elections, instead of being able to have the top two contenders go at each other one on one," Roepke said. "We don't even know who the top two contenders are until we get done with this first round of counting. And so that's frustrating."

Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said he thinks the reallocation should be done by Monday afternoon. He expects the city council to certify the results on Wednesday.

"What we are going to do is open up all our sealed transfer cases, we are going to count out all the ballots and examine them to determine for the lower ranked candidates, who their second, third choices are," Mansky said. "We will reallocate those votes to the remaining candidates, and determine who the winner of this election is."

Mansky expects the city council to certify the results on Wednesday.