Here comes Minneapolis ranked-choice voting, and not everyone's ready

John and Becky Shockley
John and Becky Shockley already know which candidates they will vote for in the Minneapolis mayoral election using ranked choice voting. The Shockleys, who are both semi-retired professors, stand outside First Universalist Church on Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013.
MPR Photo/Julie Siple

Voters will go to the polls in Minneapolis on Tuesday to elect a new mayor. It's the first time the city will use what's called ranked-choice voting in an election where there's no incumbent mayoral candidate.

When they step into the voting booth, they'll choose among 35 candidates for mayor. On the ballot, each of those candidates will be listed three times, so voters can pick their first, second, and third choice.

Are they ready to cast their ballots? It was clear from conversations with a voters on Sunday that while some are ready, others are not.

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A guide to ranked-choice voting (video)

Shopping at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Sunday, Theresa Brakefield was certain about her number one choice: Jackie Cherryhomes. After that, things got a little trickier. Brakefield hasn't picked her second or third choice. And when presented with a sample ballot, she cringed.

"It's a little overwhelming, and I can see why people don't vote," she said. "I only know a few of the names. I think it's a little overwhelming."

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As for why she'll be asked to pick a second and third choice? More cringing.

"I don't know why. I don't know why. Frankly, no," she said.

Even many of those who understand the ins and outs of ranked choice are still unsure who their second and third choices will be. At an Uptown coffee shop on Sunday, some young voters said the decisions could keep them away from the polls.

"Seeing the ballot, it looks like I'm more uninformed than I thought I was," said 23-year-old Shaun Linnihan, adding that he's unlikely to vote -- he says he's just not informed enough. "There's way too many options. Well maybe not too many, but just too many to look into all of them and really be informed as much as you should be on any specific candidate."

Several blocks away, at the First Universalist Church, Diane Rand stopped to talk after a service. Rand said she understands what she's supposed to do when she enters the voting booth, but she's not ready with all her picks. She says she has some reading to do.

"I think the information is there. I was going to investigate it more as it gets closer to Tuesday. And I hope to figure out my second and third candidates soon. I'm thinking about four or five different people," she said.

Chad Rikansrud, from the Kingfield neighborhood, also stopped after the service. He understands ranked-choice voting -- the reasons for it, and the math behind it -- after what he described as a long night in a pub with a friend who explained it. He supports the new system.

"I don't think the voting process necessarily lends itself to be easy anyway, and this is one more thing that might alienate people. But I think it's the right thing to do. It's worth the education. It's worth the time," Rikansrud said. He's still deciding on his second and third choices. And he admits if people walk into the voting booth unaware of ranked choice voting, they're going to be taken aback.

"If you didn't know, it'd be completely confusing. It's like when you go in on a regular voting day, and there's 10 people on the park board and you get to pick two. And you look at it, and you're like, 'I have no idea who these people are,' and pick two," he said. Now you look at this, and there's 40 of them on there. It's going to be overwhelming to a lot of people."

Becky and John Shockley, who described themselves as semi-retired professors, said they know exactly who they'll vote for on Tuesday.

"I know first and second, and I think I know my third," he said.

"I've decided all three," she said. "I didn't find it that difficult to sort it out. But you do have to be informed. You can't just go in and hope for the best."

The Shockleys were the only two people, out of dozens asked, who said they were fully prepared to mark Tuesday's ballot.