News

2013 Election Expectations

MEMORANDUM

To: Interested Parties

Date: October 23, 2013

From: Jeanne Massey, FairVote Minnesota Executive Director

Subject: 2013 Election Expectations


SUMMARY

This memorandum will guide the reader through expectations in advance of the 2013 elections in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, in which Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) will be used, including:

  • Voter turnout expectations
    • Possible factors driving and decreasing turnout
    • RCVs relation to voter turnout
    • How many candidates voters will rank?
    • Timing of election results
    • Majority winner and exhausted ballots
    • Voter understanding

 1.      What do we expect turnout to be? Will Ranked Choice Voting play a role?

  • Taking various factors into consideration, we estimate turnout to fall in the range of 65,000 and 90,000 voters.
  • Variables that affect turnout include level of competitiveness, registration levels, PACs and nationwide trends in off-year municipal elections.
  • Ranked Choice Voting does not play a significant role in voter turnout.

 

Because this is the first competitive and open mayoral race in Minneapolis using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), precise turnout is difficult to predict. The past five Minneapolis municipal elections have seen fluctuating but decreasing turnout:

 

Year

Votes Cast

Total Registered

Margin of Victory

Turnout %

2009

45968

234028

62.63

19.64%

2005

70987

235172

24.75

30.19%

2001

89285

223778

30.08

39.90%

1997

96772

208150

10.15

46.49%

1993

104626

230602

14.66

45.37%

 Several factors are driving turnout both up and down relative to previous cycles

Factors Driving Turnout

 Competition

This makes intuitive sense. The competitiveness of each of these races (as determined by margin of support for the eventual winner) correlates with overall turnout percentage. Due to Mayor Rybaks decision not to run for re-election, there are currently 35 candidates running for mayor, 8 of whom (Cherryhomes, Andrew, Hodges, Samuels, Winton, Cohen, Fine, and Woodruff) are considered to be the most competitive in the race. Six of the 13 city council seats also can be seen as competitive, to varying degrees.

 High Levels of Registration

There are currently between 235,500 and 244,000 registered voters in Minneapolis. Without taking into consideration 2013 same-day registrants (which, based on previous years, could range from 5,000 to 15,000), this is still a higher level of registration than has existed in any of the previous five municipal elections.

Emergence of Candidate-Affiliated PACs

Money spent on elections helps drive turnout. Candidate spending raises the salience of the race and campaigns invest money in turning out their supporters. Campaign finance limits have historically kept campaign spending in Minneapolis low relative to similar-sized cities with higher municipal spending limits. Unlike in previous years, however, there will likely be at least two candidate-affiliated PACs in this years race. These PACs could spend an additional $100,000 to $300,000 each on the race.

Factors That May Depress Turnout

Off-year Voter Participation Waning Nationwide

In Los Angeles recent municipal election (a citywide race with its first open mayoral seat in a decade, where candidates spent over $19 million) participation dropped nearly 30%. This waning is not universal, but it seems to be a nationwide trend. Minnesotans, however, are known for our consistently high voter turnout and engagement compared to most states in the country.

Voters are Unaccustomed to Voting in Off-year Elections

It has been a full 8 years since there was a competitive citywide election in Minneapolis. Further, the race has not yet seemed to generate a great deal of buzz and media attention that helps drive voter attention to and excitement about the race. This may change in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, but to date, the race has not been a significant and steady news item.

RCV and Voter Turnout

 RCV is not a primary driver of turnout, up or down

As Professor David Schultz recently wrote, there has been no indication in other municipalities or countries where RCV is used that the RCV process has a negative effect on turnout. If anything, research has long indicated that one of the significant drivers of turnout is perceived choice and competitiveness in an election, both of which will have been elevated in the Minneapolis municipal elections by RCV. Because of the ability to win by coalition, there are more paths to victory for more candidates. Likewise, in the robust field for mayor, no clear front-runner has emerged. These two facts mean there are more viable choices for voters, which research indicates should have a positive effect on turnout.

That being said, if turnout is higher than expected, it is not necessarily accurate to say that RCV was a primary reason. The important conclusion is that there are several factors driving and depressing turnout, and parsing out the causes of voter turnout is not a cut-and-dried undertaking.

2. How many people do we expect to use their rankings?

  • The more competitive the race, the more voters rank.

In a May 2013 MinnPost article by Minneapolis City Council policy aide Robin Garwood, responding to University of Minnesota Professor Larry Jacobs claim that expecting more than a quarter or a third of voters to use the ranking system would be unrealistic, Garwood points to the 2009 Minneapolis elections as our best indicator of what to expect. 

In that election several city council races went to second or later rounds. In Ward 4:

 _ of the 832 people who voted for one of the third- and fourth-place candidates or write-ins, 525 had a second choice counted. Thats 63 percent. Ward 5 also went to a second round. Of the 498 people who voted for one of the candidates who got the fewest votes or write-ins, 352 had a second choice counted. Thats 71 percent _ for the 13 City Council races, Park Board At-Large, and Mayor, only one race (Cam Gordons re-election as Council Member for Ward 2) had fewer than one-third as many second choice votes as first-choice votes. [emphasis Garwoods.]

Ward 2 voters in St. Pauls inaugural RCV election in 2011 had a similar experience. In that council race in which there were strong challengers to the incumbent candidate, 72 percent of voters cast a second choice, 40 percent cast a third choice, 16 percent cast a fourth choice and 10 percent cast a firth choice (note, St. Paul allows up to six ranking).

The important take-away from the 2009 Minneapolis and 2011 St. Paul elections, as well as elections in other cities that use RCV, is that when using RCV, voters act in sophisticated ways. More voters use their rankings when the race is competitive just as voter turnout is higher in competitive elections generally and are more likely to do so if they vote for candidates in less strong positions; voters are less likely to rank if they vote for front-running candidates because they would not expect their rankings to come into effect. In general, voters are more likely to rank candidates when they expect the rankings to come into effect, and less likely to do so otherwise.

Previous RCV elections lead us to expect that in competitive races with more than 2 candidates (e.g., the mayoral race) the use of rankings by voters who do not rank the top 2 vote-getting candidates first (i.e., those voters whose rankings will be used) will be well over 50%.

3. How long will it take before we know who won?

  • City election officials anticipate next day results in the mayors race.

Minneapolis elections officials have said that all races in which a candidate reaches the threshold among first choices will be declared on election night. They will begin tabulating the results for the mayoral race the day following Election Day and anticipate final results by the end of the day. Results for all races that are not decided on Election Day are scheduled to be completed by the end of the week. Races are counted in the order in which they appear on the ballot Mayor, City Council, Board of Estimate and Taxation, Park Board. With new voting equipment, the city will avoid the need for a manual count of the ballots required in 2009 and reduce the tabulation process from weeks to days.

Further, the speed of the tabulation process is made faster by the process of batch elimination of mathematically unviable candidates. Whenever any candidate is mathematically incapable of winning (their first choice votes + all potential second- and third-choice votes from candidates eliminated before them do not surpass the candidate with the next highest number of votes) they are eliminated, and voters who made those candidates their first choice have their votes transferred to their second choice.

After the first round of tabulation, we expect several mayoral candidates to be determined mathematically incapable of winning and therefore eliminated. Put simply, just because there are 35 candidates running for mayor does not mean there will be 35 rounds of vote counting.

4. Civility

  • RCV has fostered a more civil, issue-focused mayoral campaign.

The Minneapolis mayoral race is a prime example of how RCV increases the civility of campaigning and elections. Mayoral candidates have begun actively courting each others bases and listing each other as their second or third choices; negative, non-issue-based attacks are not universally absent, but noticeably infrequent.

Some who liked the traditional head-to-head boxing matches complain that Ranked Choice Voting elections are less exciting or more boring than other elections, but the degree to which campaigning has been issue-based and revolved around points of consensus (and differences) on important municipal issues has been unprecedented in Minnesota. As one candidate forum sponsor noted, the candidates were very cordial for a change.

5. Majority Winner & Exhausted Ballots

  • The winner in an RCV election is the candidate who has a majority of continuing ballots, i.e., those expressing a preference in the final round.
  • The importance of a majority threshold is more than a number; its what striving for majority support fosters: it incentivizes candidates to reach out beyond their base to the entire electorate, because it is only with those second and third choices that the eventual winner can prevail.

The eventual winner of the mayoral race (and other single-seat races) in Minneapolis will have won 50% +1 of the ballots remaining in the final round of counting. If a candidate receives 50% + 1 of all first choices, that candidate is declared the winner. If no candidate receives 50% + 1 of all first choices, then the candidates who are mathematically incapable of winning are eliminated and the voters who made those candidates their first choice have their votes transferred to their second choice.

The votes are then re-tallied to see if anyone has 50% + 1 of the remaining ballots. As candidates are eliminated, some ballots will become exhausted. This happens when a voters first, second, and third choice candidate are defeated before the final round. Once a ballot is exhausted, it will no longer factor into further rounds.

As the counting rounds progress, the winner must achieve 50% + 1 of the remaining ballots (all ballots minus those that have been exhausted). The rationale for this is simple: A vote continues to transfer until all the candidates that voter chose are still in contention. If a voter has expressed no preference among the remaining candidates, then that ballot no longer factors into tabulation because the voter has given no opinion about preferences for the remaining candidates. The more choices a voter ranks, the greater the chance his or her ballot will make it to the final round.

Because of this element of the counting process and the temporary limitation of three rankings on the ballot (St. Paul has six by comparison) it is possible that the eventual winner will win with a majority of the ballots left in the final round of counting but with slightly less than a majority of total ballots cast in the election. For instance, in the 2011 San Francisco mayoral election, a total of 16 candidates ran. The counting went 12 rounds, with individual candidates or batches of candidates being eliminated in each successive round and the winner receiving less than 50 percent of the initial ballots cast.

The important point to remember here is that of the overall votes cast, the individual who wins still has to campaign and govern toward a majority. In a typical first-past-the-post election, there is little to no incentive for candidates to appeal to other candidates bases or a broader range of voters. In an RCV election, there are huge incentives to reach out to the entire electorate for second and third choices in addition to first choices, because it is only with those second and third choices that the eventual winner can prevail. This process fosters a significantly more civil and substantive campaign, gives the winner a stronger mandate with which to govern and holds the winner accountable to a much broader range of the electorate.

6. Voter Understanding

  • RCV is proven to be simple for voters.

We expect voters to understand Ranked Choice Voting, and to operate within the electoral process in sophisticated ways. After the 2009 Minneapolis mayoral election, 95% of Minneapolis voters surveyed found Ranked Choice Voting easy to use. Likewise, voters used the system in tellingly sophisticated ways. They ranked more in competitive races, and ranked less if their first choice was a front-runner/incumbent.

We anticipate the same trends to emerge in this years election, and such trends indicate that the voting populace deeply understands the RCV process. If those who make the eventual winner their top choice rank less than other voters, or if rankings are more prevalent in competitive city council races, these facts indicate deep strategic understanding of the RCV process.

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