The Minneapolis Charter Commission is exploring whether to move city elections from odd- to even-numbered years, but isn't sure such a change would boost turnout enough to be worth the trouble.
While holding city elections at the same time as congressional, legislative and county races would inarguably expose more voters to municipal races, it's not clear how many of those voters would make it down ballot to the mayoral and City Council candidates, said Barry Clegg, the commission's chairman, after a meeting of the commission Wednesday.
"We know there's going to be ballot drop-off. People vote for president and they drop it in the ballot box and leave. It's called ballot fatigue," Clegg said.
Research on the subject reports increased turnout when city elections are aligned with state and federal elections, but most studies don't delve into whether voters made choices all the way down the ballot. So the Charter Commission has enlisted a graduate student at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs to conduct that research and report back in May.
Municipal races were moved to off-years in the 1920s to separate them from more partisan state and federal races, said City Clerk Casey Carl.
Moving city elections back to even-numbered years would conflict with a state law requiring ballots be confined to one page, Clegg said. The large number of candidates and choices with ranked-choice voting mean the ballots would spill over into two pages.
Before pursuing a change to state law, "we want to find out if it's worth doing," Clegg said.
A charter amendment changing city election years will not go on the ballot this fall, Clegg said, but could in 2020.
In its meeting Wednesday, the commission also discussed a proposal to clarify the rules for what type of budget the mayor is required to produce each year.
The proposed amendment has been pushed by Carol Becker, a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation who sued former Mayor Betsy Hodges over the timing of the release of her budget in 2017. A judge sided with Hodges, and Becker asked the Charter Commission to clarify the rules to ensure future mayors produce a full budget 30 days before the Board of Estimate certifies the property tax levy for the following year.