On Wednesday the Minneapolis Charter Commission was presented with a proposal to cut the number of city council seats from 13 to 9. The plan would also replace 3 district-based ward seats with at-large members elected by a citywide vote. This would reduce the number of wards (districts) by more than half — from 13 to 6.
Minneapolis’ City Clerk and top elections official, Casey Carl, spoke bluntly about the “wealth of research” showing the racist effects of such a radical change to the way voters elect members of the city council.
Carl added: “Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg stated that along with racial gerrymandering… at-large elections are the primary means of diluting the power of the vote and denying equal opportunity for minority voters and candidates.”
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.
There is now a tie for the sixth and final two-year term, between Sara Romanishan and John Edwards (me). As the LHENA bylaws do not specify a formal tie-breaking procedure, President Foreman has called for a community vote on May 20, at 6 pm, to decide whether to add an additional seat to the Board of Directors. President Foreman notified me on Sunday morning that she was rescinding my LHENA-provided security detail pending a bylaw change.
The rule of thumb for recounts is that the candidate with the most transient/lazy/uneducated supporters will gain votes. It’s possible that some of Mr. Cowgill’s Millennial voters marked their ballots using emojis, which may have confused vote counters. Another rule of thumb about recounts is that winners do not request them (we’re currently looking for a new @WedgeLIVE Senior Producer).
We leave it to the League of Women Voters to interpret this ballot.
Because our recent LHENA board election was so extremely close, LHENA staff recommended a recount of the ballots. We asked the League of Women Voters and Neighborhood and Community Relations to assist us in a recount which was completed earlier this week. The recount resulted in a change to the board membership. Jono Cowgill is a new board member. Welcome Jono! Saralyn Romanishan and John Edwards tied for the remaining board seat. LHENA bylaws have no stated policies in terms of what to do in the case of a tie. In order to come to a speedy resolution, I would like to call a special meeting of the members to meet before our next board meeting on Wednesday May 20th at 6:00pm at Jefferson School Media Center, for the purpose of adding one two-year term board seat bringing the total board membership up to 12 members. This would allow for both John and Sara to be on the board. After the special meeting, the board will meet for the regular monthly board meeting and elect officers. I am excited to harness the talent and energy of the new and the returning board members. The Lowry HIll East Neighborhood Association encourages the participation of all residents. The results of the recount supervised by the League of Women Voters are: 2 Year Term – six seats open Katie Jones Schmitt – 82 – Board Seat Beth Harrington – 61 – Board Seat Paul Ryan – 58 – Board Seat Michael Friedman – 56 – Board Seat Jono Cowgill – 55 – Board Seat John Edwards – 54 Tie Saralyn Romanishan – 54 Tie Nathan Jorgenson – 52 Sue Bode- 49 Ryan Goeken – 46 Mark Greenwald – 45 Jeff Juul – 41 Erik Ernst – 37 One Year Term – one seat open Frank Brown – 53 – Board Seat Scott Hargarten – 49
Thank you. Leslie Foreman President Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association
Council Member Lisa Bender speaks at LHENA’s 2015 annual meeting.
Last week, in an effort to get others elected to LHENA’s Board of Directors, I failed miserably and got myself elected instead. Turnout was surprisingly high. I thought we were doomed, but strange new faces began arriving later in the evening, closer to the advertised election time, providing hope.
A lady in the front row was moved to ask if candidates would be required to announce their homeowner/renter status (that was weird). The composition of the room affected one incumbent, whose speech turned into a concession, with a reference to her age being a political handicap. But in the end, we were still kind of doomed. Demographics weren’t favorable enough. I blame baseball, amazing weather, and cool kids with better things to do.
In an attempt to bring the neighborhood together, new LHENA Board Member @johneapolis has asked to be sworn in on Healy’s copy of the Koran. — Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) April 17, 2015
Last week’s election also raises some questions. 1. Why?I ask myself the same question.
2. Was Meg giving you dirty looks the whole evening?You’re just paranoid.
3.What do you consider to be your campaign’s “Game Change” moment? Had to be when a group of older gentlemen got a hold of our slate of candidates and started passing around a handwritten list of names. It probably didn’t cost us any votes, but it was funny. 4. What happens to your social media empire?Financial managers have placed my entire stake in wedgelive.com and @WedgeLIVE into a blind trust. While I will continue to own 100% of this blogspot, I will have no idea that this is the case.
5. Will you continue to live-tweet LHENA Board meetings?My new circumstances likely make high-volume live-tweeting a thing of the past. That doesn’t mean there won’t be breaking news to report from time to time.
6. When are you moving to Whittier? My lease is up in September… Just kidding. I pledge to serve my entire term, and grow enough gray hairs by the end of those two stress-filled years to pass for a long-time resident.
7. Your political role model?Marco Rubio. I’m prepared to be the young-ish, mediocre, political hotshot on the receiving end of overly generous descriptions, such as “good looking” and “articulate” and “has hair” and “makes words with his mouth.”
8. What details are important to preserve for historians looking back 45 years from now? Seven LHENA Board seats were up for grabs in 2015. They included seats held by the following: Michael Roden, Sara Romanishan, Sue Bode, Paul Ryan, Kyle Kilbourn, Shae Walker, and Burt Coffin. There were roughly 15 candidates to fill those seats.
Re-elected were Sara Romanishan and Paul Ryan. Sue Bode came up short. Michael Roden was lost to transiency. Kyle, Shae and Burt retired to become lobbyists probably. LHENA’s five new Board Members are: Michael Friedman, Frank Brown, Beth Harrington, Katie Jones-Schmitt, and John Edwards. They join Leslie Foreman, Tim Dray, Bill Neumann, and Becky Dernbach on the 11 member Board. Those four will be up for re-election in 2016, along with the seat of Frank Brown, who was elected to a one-year term.
Analysis: The North Wedge Historic District has a whole lotta yard signs. Meanwhile, in the South Wedge Transient District there are many fewer yard signs. Experts say this could lead to fewer people of South Wedge descent being aware of the annual meeting, or knowing that LHENA exists in the first place. I’ve met more than a few South Wedge residents who thought they lived in Whittier or CARAG. Stay tuned to @WedgeLIVE to see how this impacts Wednesday’s results.