St. Paul Makes Big Change, Despite Voting to Keep Things Mostly the Same

Yesterday was election day in St. Paul. Here’s the results. Five of seven seats on the City Council have returning incumbents. Rebecca Noecker (62%), Chris Tolbert (61%), Mitra Jalali Nelson (59%), Amy Brendmoen (53%), and Jane Prince (62%). All won by virtue of surpassing 50% of first choice votes after the election night count. Two seats remain up in the air.

In Ward 6, Nelsie Yang has what looks like an insurmountable 17 point lead (44-27%) over Terri Thao. In Ward 1, incumbent Dai Thao leads Anika Bowie 42-30%; Liz De La Torre is in third place with 19%. Final results might take a while: Ramsey County is scheduled to begin reallocating voters’ ranked choices on Friday.

Voters citywide came out in favor retaining St. Paul’s organized trash ordinance by a 63-37% margin. If organized trash was a candidate, it would have been the most popular candidate on the ballot last night.

Ward 6 result has implications citywide

Assuming the results hold, the change in Ward 6 is a very big deal. For the past two decades Ward 6 had elected, and re-elcted, Dan Bostrom — a 78-year-old, relatively conservative ex-cop. They appear to have elected a 23-year-old progressive organizer and daughter of Hmong refugees, Nelsie Yang.

In 2019, Bostrom abruptly resigned from the seat and was replaced on an interim basis by Kassim Busuri. Busuri reneged on a promise not to run for reelection, didn’t distinguish himself while in office, had some homophobic comments come back to haunt him. Busuri received just seven percent of first choice votes on election day.

Yang is an organizer for Take Action Minnesota. She worked on the campaign for a $15 minimum wage. She built an impressive campaign, raising nearly $100,000 and securing most of the big endorsements. Her message emphasized equity, economic justice and criminal justice reforms.

In what other ways could Yang become a swing vote? Minneapolis Parks Commissioner Chris Meyer noted on Monday — based on his conversations with Yang — that she supports eliminating parking requirements citywide. By his math, this would make a four vote majority on the St. Paul City Council in support of such an action.

Ward 1 hypothetical reallocation math

Ward 1 results are less certain. Dai Thao has a sizable lead, but Robin Garwood made what I think is a pretty good analogy between St. Paul’s results in Ward 1 last night and the results in Minneapolis’ Ward 4 from 2017. Both races had three main candidates with an incumbent in the low 40s. And since nobody wants to wait until the weekend for Ramsey County to count actual ballots, let’s reallocate Ward 1 votes using the results from 2017 in Minneapolis.

The Barb Situation. Eliminate all candidates and write-ins not in the top two: that’s 1,804 votes to reallocate. Assume the Minneapolis Ward 4 conditions: Bowie gets just under 54% of the reallocated vote; just over 26% of ballots are exhausted; and the remaining goes to Thao, the incumbent. Thao would still finish about 173 votes ahead of Bowie. Thao’s big advantage is that he starts 12 points ahead instead of just two points, as in the Minneapolis example.

Here’s another hypothetical comparison. Ranked choice also played a pivotal role in another Minneapolis City Council race in 2017: Ward 3. Steve Fletcher ultimately won after finishing the first round down by six points (34-28%). Fletcher benefited from occupying the space between two very different candidates: trailing a socialist with a Republican right behind him in third place.

The Fletcher Scenario. Bowie gets 60% of the reallocated vote; 25% of ballots are exhausted; and the remaining 15% goes to Thao. Bowie would win by about 28 votes.

Under the rosiest scenario, a Bowie victory is plausible. There is good reason to think that many of Liz De La Torre’s supporters ranked Bowie second. De La Torre’s campaign rhetoric was the most critical of Thao’s record. But 12 points is a lot of ground for Bowie to make up.

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Then enjoy this NCAA tournament-style recap video of the drama that was St. Paul Election Season 2019.