White Bear Township considers moving board elections to November
- Article by: TIM HARLOW
- Star Tribune
- March 2, 2012 - 10:29 PM
On the second Tuesday of March, residents in a majority of Minnesota townships will go to the polls to elect their boards of supervisors.
In White Bear Township, voters will elect two board members, one to fill a three-year term and another to finish out the year remaining on the term of a supervisor who had to step down.
But officials in the northeast-metro community wonder if this is the best time of year to be selecting township leaders. They are contemplating moving the election to November to coincide with the general election, following in the footsteps of other townships that have already made the move.
"Residents feel that too many people are gone in March when we do the supervisor election and not taking advantage of the fact that they could file an absentee ballot," said Judy Moll, a township staff member who is in charge of elections. "They figure if we are doing elections in the fall, it would be more visible, and that more people would vote because they know it is a general election anyway."
More than 11,000 residents live in the township, but only 364 people cast a ballot in last March's election, records show.
In townships, supervisors are akin to a City Council members. They pay the bills and handle city business.
Minnesota has about 1,700 townships, and 590 of them have moved their board elections from March to November, according to Gene Dufault, a special programs coordinator who conducts election training for the Minnesota Association of Townships.
Township elections have been held in March since the 1970s, when Gov. Rudy Perpich declared the second Tuesday of March as Township Day, when townships hold their elections and annual meetings.
But in 2009, new legislation allowed townships to move elections to November. Some did so to combat low turnouts. Others made the change to save money.
No change is imminent in White Bear Township, but leaders are collecting information to determine if such a move would be beneficial. Voters would have to approve the change before it could go into effect. Some supervisors' term lengths also would have to be adjusted if elections were moved, Dufault said.
Moll sees a couple of benefits that could come if White Bear Township moved its elections. One is that she'd only have to recruit and train election judges once a year instead of twice. That would save the township money.
"You have to hire and train staff," said Moll, who pays 12 to 15 judges to staff the township's four polling places. "And you have to test the machines. Typically, turnout is low." March elections "are not really cost effective. We are looking to cut corners any way we can."
Moll did not have figures readily available on how much White Bear spends on its March elections, but "there is money involved in doing an election like that," she said. The township has an election budget of about $30,250 for 2012, according to its general fund budget posted on the township's website.
Moll said the topic could be discussed at the township's annual meeting -- also held on election day in March.
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib
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