Columns: Bring On The Voter Registration And Downsize Minot's City Council

I have a couple of newspaper columns published today that I thought I’d flag here on the blog as well.

First, in the Grand Forks Herald, I write about the voter registration issue. North Dakota is the only state in the nation without voter registration. The Legislature is studying the issue during the interim, but so far the idea is getting a cool reception.

I’m interested in voter registration mostly as a means of ending the open primary process here in the state. Currently political parties operating here have no control over who votes for their candidates. The parties are required by law to put their candidates on the primary ballot for endorsement, and then anyone can vote to nominate those candidates for the party. Democrats can vote for Republican candidates, and vice versa. Heck, people who don’t even belong to a political party can vote for the candidates.

That’s wrong. In a perfect world we would take the candidate nomination process out of state law and leave it up to the political parties. Private organizations should be in charge of their own nomination process, don’t you think? But short of that, voter registration would at least give some measure of assurance that those voting for Republican candidates are Republicans, and those voting for Democrat candidates are Democrats, etc., etc.

Second, I have a column in the Minot Daily News today about a local issue we’re considering in the Magic City. Currently petitions are being circulated to put before voters a proposal to reduce our 14 member city council from 14 members apportioned to districts in the city down to 5 members elected at large.

An excerpt:

Here’s an ugly truth: The City of Minot has 14 members of the city council, and just four of them faced competitive elections to win those offices.

Think about that for a moment. Four members of the city’s governing body – which makes spending decisions with millions upon millions of our tax dollars and passes ordinances that we must follow under penalty of law – won their seats on that council through a competitive election where their ideas were challenged by an opponent.

The other 10 are there simply because they put their names on the ballot.

That’s a problem.

Apathy in local elections is, unfortunately, nothing new. Last year, Mayor Chuck Barney won election to his first term in that office with just 1,327 votes. Write-in candidates got 1,033 votes. In all, less than 2,500 Minot citizens even bothered to vote in the mayoral race.

That’s a problem too.

Reducing the size of the city council won’t fix voter apathy in Minot, but it would promote more competitive races for those seats, and electing the council members at large would stop geography from disqualifying two engaged candidates for the council who might otherwise be elected by voters.

That last seems to be the sticking point for most people on the fence about this effort. While that’s a valid concern, Minot isn’t so large a community that we need worry about city councilor’s putting the parochial interests of their neighborhoods above those of others.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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