Legislator: We Should Hold Special Elections During Regular Elections

Last night the Fargo Public School District got a stinging defeat from voters in a special election which would have allowed the district to keep their property tax mill levy above the state-mandated cap. Since 2009 the state has bought down 125 mills worth of local school taxes. Last legislative session the state approved a permanent school tax buy-down, but along with that came the requirement that school districts cap the school levy at 70 mills, or get approval from voters to exceed it.

Fargo voters didn’t give that approval.

We can debate about the why (I write about that here), but one interesting aspect of the special election was the low turnout.

In a school district with about 11,000 students, in the heart of North Dakota’s most densely populated area, just 6,080 votes were cast.

In a recent special election in Minot, a much smaller city with a much smaller school district, there was a better but still small turnout of 8,696.

Many believe – and I believe they’re right – that these special elections are often planned to manipulate turnout. That is, to minimize the turnout of those who might vote the wrong way in the election.

That obviously didn’t work out to well in Fargo, or Minot for that matter where the school bond failed, but the larger point is a good one. These special elections usually have terrible turnout numbers.

In response to my post from earlier today, a state Senator emailed to say that he’s considering legislation that would require that these elections take place during regular elections, and that they be administered by local election officials.

I’m assuming that would mean issues like school bonds and the like would happen on either the June or the November ballots. The legislator in question didn’t want his name associated with the proposal as he’s not got the language formalized and isn’t ready to talk about it publicly.

That seems like a reasonable reform to me. What do you think?

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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