Bloomington election judges hand-count ballots in 3 races

Bloomington election officials began hand-counting hand-classified ballots on Thursday, a manual process that could take until the weekend to call the winners of two city council races.

In Tuesday’s third run of the ballot, newcomer Lona Dallessandro was declared the winner of the District 3 council seat on Thursday afternoon after about six hours of counting.

In the remaining two races, no candidate received the necessary 50% plus a first-choice vote on Tuesday night, triggering manual tabulation by 22 election judges. This is the first time Bloomington, the state’s third largest city, has used preferential voting. To instill confidence in this new process, the city opened the tab to the public at Civic Plaza.

“We have to be patient,” said Sharon Billings, campaign manager for incumbent President Nathan Coulter, as she watched each ballot go from one electoral judge to another.

Billings sat next to Laurie Aho, campaign manager for Patrick Martin, District 4 incumbent, and Erik Wakefield, Dallessandro campaign volunteer.

Wakefield said that while the hand-counting process was very calm, organized and methodical, he would like to see some technology implemented. “I think we could definitely enter the 21st century,” he said.

City clerk Christina Scipioni said election judges hoped to wrap up District 4’s race on Friday and move on to the general race count, which is due to end on Saturday.

St. Paul is the only other city in Minnesota to hand-count classified ballots, under the supervision of Ramsey County. County Electoral Officer David Triplett said cities can only use tabulation software certified by the secretary of state’s office. Software like the RCV Universal Tabulator to quickly generate ranked-choice results exists, but no RCV tabbing software is certified in Minnesota, Triplett said, “hence the manual tab. So not a lot of routes to go. Choose.”

The secretary of state’s office notes that there is no state law governing the RCV, as cities have adopted it through their charters. A proposal to the legislature includes standards for tabulation, and if passed, the office could use those standards to certify software.

Jeanne Massey, executive director of the priority voting advocacy group FairVote Minnesota, said the manual counting of RCV ballots is not expected to take place in 2021. But she notes that the five cities in the state using the Voting processes have only two options: count or what’s called the “Minneapolis Method,” a tabulation process created by the first city in Minnesota to use choice voting. This is also a manual process, but relies on computer spreadsheets to get results much faster.

“Both approaches are very transparent and very precise, only one is more tedious and slow,” Massey said.

Minnetonka also used RCV for the first time on Tuesday, but the western metropolitan city already has the election results. This is because Minnetonka opted for the Minneapolis method, which is also used in St. Louis Park.

Massey hopes the software certification issue will be resolved before the next election. Minneapolis has applied for experimental certification and tested the universal tabulator this year, she said, alongside the traditional spreadsheets the city has been using since the first rollout of choice voting in 2009.

“We’ve had a preferential vote for over a decade, but here we are,” Massey said.

Bloomington could have taken the Minneapolis Highway rather than following St. Paul’s slower advance. But Scipioni said that for the city’s first time with the ranked choice, they decided to hand over a table to make the process more transparent to first-time ranked voters.

“We really wanted the residents to be able to see the entire process,” said Scipioni.

She said this is a “sticky situation” because the most efficient tabulation method is not certified in the state. “We are stuck in this gray area where we cannot use the fastest method available,” she said.

Bloomington will assess the tabulation process and consider changes for the next election.

“We will continue to improve and make this job even better every year,” she added.

Updates to the election results will be posted on the city’s website and the public is invited to watch throughout the weekend, with the count starting each day at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m.

Wakefield said while the process is both tedious and full of anticipation, there are obvious advantages to manually counting ballots in front of the public.

“There are no machines that do it by magic behind the curtain,” he said. “So there shouldn’t be any questions of accuracy, because everything is being done in the open.”

Massey said that once city council winners are declared in Bloomington, voters will quickly forget how long it took to count.

“If you could do it faster, my personal opinion is that they consider this for the next round,” she said.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751

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