Olmsted County Fair

Fairgoers take advantage of the different food options Thursday during the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester. They also have a chance to vote for some of their favorites through 6 p.m. Sunday at the Ranked Choice Voting Rochester booth in Commercial Building 35. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

A corn dog might not get a pothole filled and cheese curds probably won’t reduce your taxes, but a local group is hoping votes for them can send a message regarding election policy.

Ranked-choice voting is being put to the test at the Olmsted County Fair, with participants casting ballots for their favorite fried fair foods at booth No. 5 in Commercial Building 35.

“We just wanted to teach people about ranked-choice voting,” said Vangie Castro, one of three Ranked Choice Voting Rochester organizers working with a team of volunteers to promote the ballot option for city elections.

Working with Fair Vote Minnesota, Ranked Choice Voting Rochester is hoping to find a path that would replace the traditional primary and general elections with a single election day, which could include multiple candidates in a single race.

Ranked-choice voting asks voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. It eliminates the need for a primary election if more than two candidates are seeking the same seat.

In city elections, the option provides for a greater number of choices in the general election, rather than requiring a primary months earlier to narrow the field.

Castro said the county fair demonstration is an effort to raise awareness, which could lead to a referendum on the issue in next year’s general election.

“Ranked choice voting in local elections is our ultimate goal, because it is the most inclusive way to give voters more choice, foster more diversity and ensure winners with broad community support,” she said.

In 2013 and 2018, Rochester’s Charter Commission discussed the issue, but no recommendation was made to the Rochester City Council, leaving some to call for a public vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, voting on fried favorites had generated 130 completed ballots by noon Friday in the four-way race between funnel cake, cheese curds, mini donuts and corn dogs.

Voters are being asked to rank the four options based on choice.

The results will be tallied at 6 p.m. Sunday. If none of the choices see more than 50 percent of the first-choices on the total ballots cast, second-choice votes on ballots favoring an eliminated candidate will be considered, until a clear winner can be named.

A computer at the Ranked Choice Voting Rochester booth provides a glimpse at how tabulation works and clearly showed mini donuts in the lead Friday.

“Some of the pushback is that people say it’s complicated,” Castro said, noting the goal is to show votes are easily cast and counting votes is easier than it appears.

“No matter whether folks prefer the traditional corn dog, cheese curds or sugar-covered mini donuts, we want fairgoers to experience the simplicity of using a ranked ballot and know the excitement that comes from ensuring their vote counts,” she said.

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