Thursday, November 10, 2005

minority rule

Well Tuesday, November 8th, was one of my favorite dates in the USA since it was "Election Day" with the biggest prizes being the Office of Governor in the states of New Jersey and Virginia in addition to the Office of Mayor of New York. While I could offer several observations on the outcome of these elections this posting will focus on the local elections (e.g. school boards, city councils, and ballot referendum for various causes) we had in my home city of Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Odd year elections such as 2005 are sometimes called "off, off year elections" as opposed to 2006 which will be our "off year election" (aka "non-presidential"). The challenge of course in such elections is voter turnout. The most watched race in Minnesota was no doubt for Mayor of St. Paul where the incumbent Democrat Farmer Labor Party ("DFL" -- their official name in Minnesota, not just "Democratic Party") Mayor Randy Kelly was defeated by fellow DFL'er Chris Coleman primarily because Mayor Kelly endorsed President Bush in 2004 thus turning his political base against him and to the DFL party-endorsed candidate (Chris Coleman) who won in a complete landslide but with a very low voter turnout of only 27%.

In my city our only elections were to elect 3 local school board members for District 196 schools and to seek voter approval on 3 tax levies to supply added funding to the schools in District 196 (although I thought the new Minnesota "health impact fee" approved earlier in 2005 was going to be applied to added education funding??? Follow the money is "rule one" so more postings on this fee later this year I hope).

Given the national and local results my observations follow below:

  • Campaign Spending -- there was a LOT of money spent on these 2005 elections especially since 2 millionaires were the candidates in New Jersey and a billionaire for Mayor of New York. Before there is a rush at the state and national levels for more "campaign finance reform" let me stress that one reason for the amount of spending was the simple fact that there were so few offices involved in this election so dollars could be gathered from around the country as the two major parties focused on winning handily to show positive momentum for the 2006 elections. In the 2006 and 2008 elections money will be spread around a lot more obviously since nearly all Members of Congress will be up for re-election, numerous governors will be up for re-election, and there will be a wide open presidential race.
  • Apple Valley, Minnesota -- voter turnout in my town was only 21% so clearly "those that showed up made the rules"
  • Incumbents -- all 3 incumbent members of the District 196 school board were re-elected with almost the same percentages in the "vote for 3 candidates maximum" format. I chose to write in a fraternity brother as a sound choice for the board.
  • Voter Mobilization -- I was a little shocked by the lack of telemarketing calls, no direct mail to my home, and no evidence of candidate brochures in my neighborhood. Overall it was quiet, TOO quiet :) I did not witness even ONE form of voter contact for this election.
  • Tax Levies -- my District 196 school system succeeded by having all 3 of the tax levies it sought approved by voters in the range of 54% to nearly 60% approval rates so taxes are going to go up here but will student performance improve?

The Minnesota Legislature should move our local elections to even-numbered years to not only save tax dollars needed for organizing the elections but to also capture voters' limited attention spans. In addition such a coordination of elections would remove power from the "education establishment" which essentially dictates these "off, off year" elections via the very low voter turnout so that only the "vested interests" are motivated enough to vote.

Stepping off my soap box,


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