Likely St. Paul Ward 6 winner Nelsie Yang (
by Tony Petrangelo
Nov 6, 2019, 1:30 PM

Chasing Those Precious Second Choice Votes

Appointed St. Paul Council-member Kassim Busuri appears to have lost his seat in yesterdays elections. I say appears because while he’s way, way behind, and has no realistic chance of victory, he’s not actually eliminated yet. He could still pull this thing out.

If you read the mistake-prone half of the Morning Hot Take Dish email newsletters you would have been treated to the very astute scoop that it could be the second choice votes that carry the day for Council-member Busuri.

Screenshot of a morning take take

*Quick note for the confused, Terry Thao and Nelsie Yang and Kassim Bussuri were all running in Ward 6, not Ward 7.

The galaxy brained take here seems to be that while Bussuri would likely not do well on first choice votes (he didn’t), ranked choice voting, and the potential of votes being reallocated to second and third choice votes could be Bussuri’s path to victory.

While second and lower choice votes do occasionally make a difference in ranked choice voting elections, they almost never make the difference in the way this “insider” seems to think they do. What typically happens when the second and lower choice votes make a difference is that they elevate the person who finished second in first place votes ahead of the person who finished first in first place votes.

What almost never happens is for second and lower choice votes to elevate a candidate who had finished third or lower in first place votes.

We can see this dynamic at play in Wards 1 and 6, which will both have to go to at least a second round to figure out a winner. After the first round though, here are the first choice results for Ward 1:

Candidate Votes Percent
Dai Thao 2797 42.29%
Abu Nayeem “Frogtown Crusader” 504 7.62%
Liz De La Torre 1266 19.14%
Anika Bowie 2013 30.44%
WRITE-IN** 34 0.51%

After first choice votes are counted Dai Thao leads Anika Bowie by 784 votes. There are 1,904 votes that could potentially be reallocated. Some basic math gets us to the percentage of these 1,904 potential votes that Anika Bowie would have to win in order to overcome Dai Thao.

Bowie has to make up 784 votes to tie and 785 to win, so 1,904 – 785 = 1,119.

For Bowie to win, those remaining 1,119 votes would have to at least be evenly divided between Thao and her. 1119 / 2 = 560 (rounding up).

So Bowie would need 785 votes to overcome Thao’s current lead and 560 votes to keep the rest of the counting even, meaning she would need to win 1,355 of the remaining votes to pull ahead. That’s over 71% of the remaining votes.

Now lets look at Ward 6:

Candidate Votes Percent
Greg Copeland 661 11.59%
Danielle Swift 235 4.12%
Alexander Bourne 276 4.84%
Kassim Busuri 413 7.24%
Terri Thao 1570 27.52%
Nelsie Yang 2531 44.36%
WRITE-IN** 19 0.33%

Doing the same calculations as for Ward 1, there are 1,585 votes that could potentially be reallocated and Terri Thao has to make up 961 votes to tie and 962 to win, so 1,585 – 962 = 623.

623 / 2 = 312 (rounding up). 962 + 312 = 1,274

So of the 1,585 potential votes to be reallocated Terri Thao would have to win 1,274, over 80%, to be declared the winner.

In both cases one candidate winning that high of a percentage of the reallocated votes seems very unlikely.

Remember though, the St. Paul insider referenced earlier in this post seemed to think that Kassim Busuri would be the one whom the reallocation process would favor. In order to surpass second place finisher Terri Thao though, Busuri would have to win virtually every reallocated vote in rounds two, three and four.

The problem is that reallocated votes don’t tend to stray too terribly far from the first choice distribution. Even in the Minnesota Mayors race in 2017 15% of Tom Hoch’s reallocated vote went to Ray Dehn. Personally I can’t imagine how a person votes for both Tom Hoch and Ray Dehn, but at least 3,330 people did!

Pro tip: if a political insider is talking about the importance of second choice votes that political insider likely has no clue how ranked choice voting actually works in practice.

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