Here’s a neat detail. There are a cluster of houses on Bryant Ave (2415, 2417, 2420, 2424, 2425) possibly built as duplexes, which are now single-family homes. LHENA tried to downzone a few of those addresses from R2 (two-family) to R1 (single-family) in the great rezoning battle of 2004. This must have been upsetting to our neighborhood’s “Healy originalists” who prefer to interpret zoning as the Master Builder intended.
1899: Healy builds duplex. Anon pamphleteer says: “Greedy developer. No respect for our n’hood of single fam homes.” pic.twitter.com/UNn8hh9Mgk
I can clarify some uncertainty regarding features of the very interesting house at 2404 Colfax:
It is not clear if the fence dates to the period of significance. Also, the decorative spindle work and bargeboard are very unusual to see in a Colonial Revival house. While there are no specific building permit references to this element of the design, it is not clear if this dates to the period of significance.
Aside from a few highly restrictive organizations, becoming a candidate for a leadership position in most Minneapolis neighborhoods couldn’t be easier (as my own biggest fan, I recently had the pleasure of nominating myself). Voting, however, is unnecessarily burdensome.
In Lowry Hill East, which has a fairly typical process, the election happens around 8 p.m. Nominations are followed by speeches. Then ballots are filled and submitted over the next few minutes. If you can’t be present during those few minutes on that particular day, for whatever reason, you don’t get to vote. And don’t forget your ID, because you’ll be asked for it.
This is a recipe for low turnout. This process creates barriers for people with limited time or hectic schedules: parents with young children; those who work outside a traditional nine-to-five window; or people who, after a long winter, are desperate to spend a pleasant evening at a baseball game (this last one cost me a whole lotta votes).
Rather than develop my own solution for this problem, I found a template: the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council bylaws (see section 5). Their absentee voting process allows for much more voting (much, much more). Candidates must be nominated at least seven days before the annual meeting. Nominations can be submitted by email, and ballots can be printed at home.
This process provides residents the opportunity for five days of absentee voting. That’s 120 hours of voting in Linden Hills, compared to mere minutes of voting in my (very typical) neighborhood. Linden Hills has also dispensed with a voter-ID requirement, opting instead to require voters to put their name and address on their ballot.
120 hours of voting and no voter-ID requirement for Linden Hills residents.
High-renter and/or high-minority neighborhoods are the most likely to have very restrictive electoral procedures. This is one of the things I found when I looked at the bylaws of 70 Minneapolis neighborhood associations. And in the case of Linden Hills, we have a neighborhood with a large majority of white (85%) homeowners (67%), making voting as easy as possible for their residents. This is not a coincidence.
Getting people to participate in their neighborhood association is hard enough, even when targeting those already highly engaged and interested in local issues. I recently spent quite a bit of time trying to convince friends, friends of friends, and friends with babies, to give up hours of their lives to put me on the Board of an organization they barely knew existed. It’s a lot to ask. I feel guilty/grateful for their help.
There’s no good reason your neighborhood association’s electoral process should be exponentially harder than voting for Mayor or President. At a time when unrepresentative neighborhood groups are making headlines, we should be eager to remove these barriers.
There’s been a lot of recent discussion about who leads Minneapolis’ neighborhood organizations. As in, are they diverse enough? This is an important question. But we should also be asking who and how many are voting for those leaders. We don’t have an answer for the who (I would advocate for a simple demographic survey for annual meeting attendees). But, in a first-of-its-kind analysis of never-before-cared-about numbers, we can finally tell you how many.
To give an idea of the universe of politically engaged residents, I have listed neighborhood turnout for mid-term and off-year elections (famously low turnout). It should be noted that LHENA’s 2015 election was particularly well-contested. There were two distinct, motivated factions and lots of candidates (15). People tell me that in other neighborhoods, great leaders are the ones who grudgingly say, “Fine, I’ll do it.” Not so in the Wedge! Selecting who stands between our neighborhood and annihilation is serious business.
Which is all to say, this might be a comparatively optimistic model of neighborhood association participation, rather than a typical example of what happens citywide. When reached for comment about low participation rates, newly elected (maybe?) LHENA Board Member John Edwards said, “If we want to claim a mandate from our neighborhood’s nearly 7,000 residents, we should look to find ways to make ourselves more relevant, and participation less of a burden.” [full disclosure: John Edwards is the owner of this blogspot and the author of this post]
Methodology: The number of LHENA voters are estimates I’ve seen reported by Board Members; these estimates are consistent with my own experience. In the case of 2015, a look at the actual vote totals indicates that 125 may be an overestimate: 792 votes / 7 votes per person = ~114 ballots cast (I’m sure there were undervotes and a few un-tallied write-ins for Nicole Curtis).
Though voting at LHENA does not require you to be a registered Minnesota voter, it’s a better baseline than “All Residents” for the number of people who might conceivably want to include themselves in the political process. In calculating LHENA turnout, total registered voters are from the previous November’s city/state/federal election.