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Use your ranked choices! A sample ballot

Updated: Nov 1

Hey! We're less than a week away from voting on November 7th and I'm hearing a lot of people wondering about how to vote using ranked choice, as well as what to do about the other choices on their ballot. I'll give information as well as my opinions below. First, you should know where to find all of this information, as well as where to find your polling place or how to get a mail-in ballot. Here is the Minnesota Secretary of State's website, where all of that can be found.

Ranked choice? I know some of you aren't overly fond of it, but the fact is, this is the system we have, and for this election, you'll have to work with it. My suggestion is that you use it to its full extent to make sure we elect a practical and fiscally responsible candidate this November. To that end, I'm going to suggest three top rankings to you:

Of course, I want you to rank me first. If you're here, chances are, you're already planning to do so. But keep going. You're not done voting. Give Yan Chen your second vote. She's very focused on the city budget and increasing efficiency. She has dug deep into the current budget and has pointed out to me some areas where spending can be reallocated. She's smart and focused and I'd be glad to see her on the council if I don't make it.

In third place, I'd suggest voting for Travis Helkamp. Travis is the elephant-endorsed candidate in the race, but I consider him overall to be a principled centrist with some more conservative positions. As someone with technical and construction skills, I think he'd be a practical addition to a council that lacks engineering and building knowledge. There's nobody with his leanings on the council currently and he'd bring some badly needed balance.

Still going? You get 6 ranked choices! Use them. I'd suggest ranking Lucky Rosenbloom in 4th place and James Lo in 5th. Flip a coin for 6th if you like, as it's unlikely we'll get to that place, buuuuut you just never know.

But you're still not done! There are school board elections. You get to pick 4 of the 7 candidates on the ballot. You can pick one, or two or all four if you like. Don't pick five or they'll throw your ballot out!

The four top vote receivers will be joining the school board next year and setting our school budget, hiring or firing our Superintendent and determining how much our property taxes will rise. So this is important.

I've paid closer attention to the race this year, as Gita has chosen to throw her hat into the ring. I've attended two in-person forums with the candidates and have been underwhelmed to say the least. There was almost no talk of kids, or learning or achievement. There was a lot of focus on equity and meal programs and getting rid of testing- not just standardized tests- but all testing!

If you have kids in our public schools, or will in the next few years, this is a very important race for you. View the forums, or read up on their websites. This is a race that's not often paid attention to, but it matters.

Gita Rijal Zeitler is very much an advocate for excellence in education. She wants schools that compete with the best and allow advanced classes for all students throughout. She has seen the public school she attended as a child in Nepal decline as parents have opted for private boarding schools, and doesn't want the same to happen here. Our kids are attending St. Paul schools right now, so we have a personal stake in how the schools are run. She'd be a tiger mom for all kids in St. Paul.

Zuki Ellis is seeking a third term on the school board, and though I do favor term limits, having seen the forums, I think Zuki is a practical and down to earth person who really cares about St. Paul students. She's smart and well familiar with the school budget development process. I think she deserves another term.

I also liked Erica Valliant's responses when she was talking about her childhood and overcoming adversity early on. She's advocating for financial literacy courses in our schools and technical education. She speaks from the heart and seems like a genuine person. I don't agree with all of her policy takes, but at least she seems to truly mean what she says.

I didn't get to see Abdi Omer speak, so they may be good, but I really have no idea.

So I'm definitely voting for Gita and Zuki, and Erica won me over, even after I disagreed with some policy issues.

And last? There's a ballot question about raising the city sales tax to pay for infrastructure repairs.

For me, this is a hard NO. Not because I don't like streets and bridges and parks, but because the city is currently managing its budget poorly, and pouring hundreds of millions (possibly a billion) more into it won't fix the problem, it'll just make everyone in St. Paul a little bit poorer and lead to more money wasted by St. Paul.

Along with state and county increases, it will result in a projected tax rate of 9.875%! Almost 10% in sales tax- the highest in the state! Don't believe me? Here's the Star Tribune article.

Think about what this means for businesses in St. Paul. We're already seeing an outflow of useful businesses here, due to high property taxes and rents, and a minimum wage that is $5 higher than the surrounding suburbs. Businesses are decamping to Roseville or Woodbury or simply ceasing to exist. This sales tax will push more customers to shop in the suburbs, and accelerate that trend.

For business owners, this is potentially catastrophic. For regular wage-earning St. Paulites, this means fewer jobs here in town and far fewer choices of where to shop. It may mean that the Walmart in Roseville may be where you'll have to go for most of your basic needs, as chain stores leave our neighborhoods. Don't believe me? Take a look at the place where TJ Maxx was just a month ago. That strip mall already has multiple vacant storefronts, and I expect to see more if this passes.

So say no to the increase in the sales tax. Yes, I want our roads fixed and as a landscape architect, I love parks. But let's take a sharper pencil to the budget and cut out some of the pet projects that have been added over the last half decade. Let's cancel expensive and redundant projects like the Summit Avenue rebuild and use the money elsewhere. We need to be smart about this.

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