Bloomington voters had their first experience with Ranked Choice Voting this year. Three City Council seats were decided using RCV.
The vote totals reported on the Secretary of State’s website after the polls closed was not the same as reported by Bloomington for its 1st round results. On close races, Bloomington reviewed ballots that were considered “inactive” and not counted by the electronic balloting machines. If a visual inspection could determine the intent of the voter, that vote was added to the totals. As an example, if a voter was confused by RCV and did not mark a first choice, but instead marked a second choice, it was treated as the voter’s first choice.
In this election, the review of the inactive votes affected the 1st round voting totals by at most 0,2%, generally less than 0.1%. However, that was enough to knock the front-runner in the 4th District from 50.02% down to 49.9%.
When none of the candidates in a race tallied at least one vote more than 50% of the “active” votes, the ballots of candidates that got the least votes were reviewed for the second choices. Any ballots that had a write-in for a first choice were also reviewed. In each race that went to the 2nd round, the runners-up were identified as the second choice almost two-to-one over the eventual winner, but those votes were not enough overcome the winner’s lead.
The number of ballots that were considered “inactive” at the end of the first round significantly increased at the end of the second round. This resulted when a voter chose not to mark a second choice. The percentage of Bloomington voters whose ballots did not register after two rounds for either the winner or the runner-up ran from 7,7% to 9,3%.
Depending on whether it was a District race or an At-Large race, the number of “inactive” ballots ranged from over 200 to almost 1,200. These are the numbers of votes that would have counted if the ballots had reflected just two candidates per race as has been the practice up to this year.
RCV proponents argue that by encouraging more candidates to run, more voters are encouraged to turn out. So far, that does not seem to hold true. In 2019, in the last city-wide municipal races including the mayor and an At Large council member, over 17,300 votes were cast. This year, 15,500 individuals voted for the At Large candidates.
Incumbency still conveys an advantage. While the two incumbents did not win a majority on the first round, they each garnered at least 47% of the vote.
RCV did not change the financial and get-out-the-vote dynamics of the campaigns. Generally speaking, the candidates that did not raise much money and/or did not actively campaign did not receive many votes in the first round; the fewer the votes tallied in the first round, the smaller the influence on the results of the second round Despite four candidates, the 3rd District race was won in the first round.
RCV was supported as a means of encouraging more candidates to run for office. That certainly has been the case in Minneapolis, where more than two dozen individuals have stepped forward for mayor and some city council seats. The number of candidates for each seat in Bloomington was three to four.
RCV was supposed to encourage more diversity of candidates. It appeared to attract a broader cross-section of candidates. Of the eleven individuals on the ballot, four were women (or at least specified a pronoun that so indicated) and two were of Hispanic heritage. No one ran from Bloomington’s Black community or any of its other communities.
From a political perspective, the liberals and the conservatives in Bloomington appeared to approach these “non-partisan” council races differently. The two incumbents were not challenged by other liberal candidates. In the open 3rd District seat, only one liberal candidate ran. Each race featured two-to-three more conservative candidates. The multiple-candidate approach might still be viable, but all of the candidates must work to bring out more voters, especially in different communities that do not greatly overlap.