Three candidates for St. Louis Park City Council, an outgoing council member and FairVote Minnesota supporters lauded the city’s first election using ranked-choice voting.
Given St. Louis Park history of firsts in the state in curbside recycling, Children First and other initiatives, the city became a natural fit for the system, during which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots, said Gail Dorfman, a FairVote Minnesota board members as well as a former Metropolitan Council member, Hennepin County commissioner and St. Louis Park mayor and council member.
“Following the successful FairVote campaigns for ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it was just natural to turn to St. Louis Park,” Dorfman said during a Nov. 8 media briefing at St. Louis Park City Hall. “When we brought the notion and started to talk to people in this community, they ran with it.”
Councilmember Thom Miller, who opted not to run for re-election and supported the successful campaign of Nadia Mohamed for his at-large B council seat, said he felt proud that he served on the council when the city adopted the system.
“The residents of St. Louis Park understood that this was just simply a better method, and they really embraced it,” Miller said.
He said he advocated for the system because he believed it is more inclusive.
“When I decided to give up my seat to a person of color to represent the underrepresented folks in St. Louis Park, ranked-choice voting was a really key element in my choice,” Miller said.
The traditional primary system used in the city favored establishment candidates with well-known names and with disposable income to use for their candidacies, he explained.
“But ranked-choice just by its very nature provides the ability for an unknown candidate and unknown name to give herself time to get out into the community and for people to get to know her name and get to know who she is, how wonderful she is, and that’s exactly what happened,” Miller said.
He called ranked-choice voting the beginning of the process in her race, which included two candidates, rather than the end.
Mohamed added, “It’s that inclusiveness, that idea that people could vote for more than one person.”
She recalled explaining to voters that their second choices for council member in the at-large A race, which included three candidates, would be considered if their first choices could not win.
“To them, that was just a wonderful piece of information,” Mohamed said.
After Dorfman pointed out that Mohamed, 23, may be the youngest city council member in the metro, Mohamed said, “I think being elected will set a precedent that young voices do have, like, a voice at the table, and I think it’ll show that, you know, if Nadia can do it, I can definitely do it.”
Candidate Deb Brinkman praised the ranked-choice voting system even though she did not succeed in her bid for the at-large A seat in a race that also included incumbent Steve Hallfin and Larry Kraft, the eventual winner.
“It was very satisfying because we weren’t so much looking at personal attributes or personal reasons why somebody should vote for me or why somebody should vote for the incumbent or why somebody should vote for Larry, so it was a lot easier to campaign in that way,” Brinkman said. “I think what is really important is that we had a really great competitive race, and competitive races are really good for democracy. The candidate forum that we had was overflowing with people, and that just shows how people were engaged. People were excited.”
Kraft pointed out to turnout this year, with about 6,300 voters casting votes in the at-large A race this year compared to about 4,300 votes cast in the race for the seat four years ago.
As a candidate, Kraft said he might have skipped stopping at homes with a sign for one of his competitors. With ranked-choice voting, though, he had an incentive to ask those residents to consider him as their second choice.
“I think that forces candidates to talk to all the spectrum of the electorate, and I think that is a phenomenal thing because it should make things less partisan, less divisive because you have to have those conversations,” Kraft said.
Gabe Kaplan, a junior at St. Louis Park High School who served as Kraft’s campaign manager, said most residents he spoke with while door-knocking already understood ranked-choice voting because of the city’s efforts. Others who he informed about it were happy to be able to consider all the candidates while making their decisions, he indicated.
“I really just don’t see any other way of voting that makes more sense than ranked-choice voting,” Kaplan said. “I’m not going to be 18 until 2021, but when I get to that point – when I vote for my first time – I really hope it’s ranked-choice voting on every level, not just in St. Louis Park but at the state level and nationally.”
Eight cities nationally used ranked-choice voting during elections Nov. 5, but more, like San Francisco, will use the system next year, said FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey. Maine will be the first state to use it for a presidential election next year. On Election Day, New York City voters approved ranked-choice voting for primary and special elections beginning in 2021.
In Minnesota, cities such as Minnetonka, Bloomington, Red Wing and Rochester are moving toward ballot measures regarding ranked-choice voting.
“Many more are hoping to be right behind,” Massey said. “So it’s accelerating at a fast pace at a local level where communities have had the innovative opportunity and the power to actually adopt a new voting method and get this off the ground in the United States.”
FairVote Minnesota is supporting a bill that would allow cities without charters join cities with charters like St. Louis Park, Minneapolis and St. Paul to adopt the system.
Some confusion resulted on the thresholds candidates needed to reach during the tabulation process for St. Louis Park municipal races, and Massey indicated that FairVote Minnesota staff had a conversation with city staff on the topic, leading to a change in the thresholds.
“It was really a very technical, small thing for the city,” Massey said. “It just made a change in how it was reported back out to the public, but it didn’t make any change in terms of what ballots were counted or not.”
Asked whether she had a concern that other cities could face confusion while tabulating ranked-choice voting results in the future, Massey said, “It’s really a question of how you write the ordinance. Once you have an ordinance in place, a set of rules for how you’re going to conduct the election, you really want to follow that in a very prescriptive manner.”