Ranked-choice voting: Your questions answered

Minneapolis's ranked-choice voting system will make for different ways of voting, counting those votes, and reporting results in Tuesday's nationally watched election.

A record number of Minneapolis residents have voted early for the municipal election. The city received 28,831 early ballots--approximately 11% of voters--with 1,000 showing up on Monday alone. Over the weekend, city elections officials reported wait times of more than an hour to vote.

Many more will vote on Election Day, as city voters decide the future of the Minneapolis Police Department and settle the mayor's race and 13 city council races.

How do I vote using ranked-choice voting?

Minneapolis's ranked-choice system allows voters to choose up to three candidates and rank them in the voter's preferred order. If your first choice is eliminated during vote tabulation, your second-choice candidate gets your vote. If that candidate is later eliminated, your third choice gets your vote.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say it allows people to vote their conscience with their first pick, even if that person is a long-shot, while still having their ballot count for a second- or third-choice candidate. Opponents say it's confusing, both in the voting booth and in understanding election night results.

Are all races decided by ranked-choice voting?


In Minneapolis, races for mayor, City Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are settled by ranked-choice voting. But the three ballot questions on the Minneapolis ballot use traditional "yes" or "no" format, meaning you can only vote for one option. (This is also the case for St. Paul's rent control proposal, which would cap rent increases at 3 percent every 12 months.)

It's worth noting that a growing number of Minnesota cities employ ranked-choice voting, and their systems vary somewhat. Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park have used it in previous elections, while Bloomington and Minnetonka will employ it for the first time Tuesday.

How are votes counted?

If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on the first round, the counting stops and this candidate is declared the winner.

That's what happened in St. Paul in 2017, when Melvin Carter received 50.9 percent of the vote. (Carter faces limited opposition in his re-election bid this year.)

In Minneapolis, no one is likely to reach the 50 percent threshold on the first ballot in the mayor's race or a handful of City Council races. When this happens, the vote redistribution begins.

Take the Minneapolis mayor's race. Of the 17 candidates, a dozen or so will have no mathematical chance of winning after the first round. These candidates are eliminated. If your first-choice vote was for one of these candidates, your second-choice vote will come into play.

After the second round, more candidates will be mathematically eliminated, and their votes redistributed to remaining viable candidates. Some second-choice votes will go to candidates already eliminated. If you're one of these voters, your third-choice vote will come into play. If all three of your preferred candidates are eliminated, your ballot is "exhausted."

A winner is declared once a candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold or after all remaining ballots are exhausted. A candidate can win with less than 50 percent of the vote if all ballots are exhausted.

How are results reported?

Results for Minneapolis's three ballot questions will be reported on Election Night because they're not subject to the ranked-choice voting process. That means we'll know the fate of the Minneapolis Police Department, whether voters will vest more power in the mayor's office, and whether voters will give City Council permission to implement restrictions on rent increases. Same with St. Paul's rent control proposal.

City elections officials plan to report results online here.

We'll also know the first-round vote tallies for the mayor and City Council races. But unless a candidate reaches 50 percent, there won't be a winner. (The closer a candidate gets to 50 percent in the first round, the more likely he or she is to win after subsequent rounds. The first-round leader often wins -- but not always.)

On Wednesday morning, additional rounds of tabulation will start for undecided races. Two teams of two elections staffers each will independently process the results data and determine winners, city elections staff say. This tabulation will start with the mayor's race and then move to the City Council races in a randomly drawn order.

Minneapolis elections officials said they expect to announce all results sometime Wednesday.