In November, important city and school district issues in New Brighton inspired nearly 4,800 residents to turn out and vote. This was the highest vote total this century for a local election in New Brighton in an odd-numbered year and a 64 percent increase in off-year turnout compared to 2015. Thank you to all who turned out and voted.
Yet, the members of the City Council who are authoring this commentary look at these results with some concern. Almost 13,000 New Brighton voters turned out for the 2016 presidential election. More than 8,800 people voted in the 2014 U.S. Senate election in Minnesota. By any measure, voter interest expands in even-numbered years and shrinks in odd-numbered years, even though city elections are the most important way to influence critical daily issues such as public safety, parks and recreation, property taxes and building permits.
As a plan for increasing voter participation in local elections, the New Brighton City Council recently voted to shift our municipal election day from November in odd-numbered years to the November Statewide General Election Day in even years.
Of the 854 cities in Minnesota, only 26 continue to hold elections for municipal offices in odd-numbered years. The reasons that most cities use even-year elections are pretty convincing:
- Higher voter turnout;
- Reduce pressure on city staffs to annually manage elections; and
- Save money – when a city holds elections every year, both in odd and even years, costs go up and efficient use of city staff and resources go down.
We heard the concern that people should just pay attention more, and get out and vote if they care about local issues. We believe our residents care very deeply about local issues – and more of them will express their opinions if we hold elections on the same day that they vote for other local state and federal offices.
According to state law, if a city moves from odd-year to even-year elections, this action extends the current term for the existing mayor and council members by one year. After the next election, their terms will resume to be either two or four years, depending on which office they hold.
This is certainly an imperfect result, and council members discussed this issue at length. There is no way to shift to even-year elections without temporarily changing the term of the current office holders. To keep the issue in perspective – this temporary extension of terms will last only one year.
Meanwhile, the citizen participation through higher voter turnout will last forever, as will the savings for our taxpayers. Those are goals we happily support.
Mayor Valerie Johnson
Councilmember Paul Jacobsen
Councilmember Mary Burg
Councilmember Emily Dunsworth
Councilmember Graeme Allen