In an editorial, the News Tribune endorsed moving local elections in Duluth to even-numbered years (Our View: "More voters, less cost? Yes, please," April 15). Duluth BizPac fully supports this move and encourages the Duluth Charter Commission to make this recommendation to the City Council.
Charter commissioners earlier this month instead voted for more community discussion. We recommend the commission and City Council put it to a vote, even as soon as this November.
Duluth BizPac supports this move because, for one thing, it would cut government spending by $120,000 to $165,000, as was noted in the editorial. This year, Duluth taxpayers are going to invest at least $140,000 unnecessarily to hire a person and to oversee the new earned-sick-and-safe-time ordinance. It goes into effect Jan. 1. Elections savings could be used to pay for this. (Of course, we also could rescind this unnecessary ordinance, save at least an additional $140,000 this year and add more than a quarter of a million dollars to the general fund, but that is a different discussion.)
Voter turnout in Duluth has always been high. But it drops during odd-numbered voting years. Less than 28 percent of Duluth's registered voters turned out in 2017 versus the 2018 midterm congressional election, in which 72 percent of registered local voters cast ballots. In 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected, more than 80 percent of Duluth's registered voters participated.
These types of voting-turnout differences can cause some unwanted outcomes, depending on the side of an issue you stand.
For example, in 2017, Duluth voters were asked whether a new tax should be created for the city's street improvement program. Increasing taxes is the easiest, most expedient course to take. It does not mean it's the best course to take. With a low turnout of voters, only 12,021 people voted to create the new tax. Those in favor had to know that if they rallied their base of voters, the new tax would easily pass, and they had to know voter turnout would be low. The issue is that less the 25 percent of registered voters went to the polls that year. The turnout was also less than 14 percent of the entire population of Duluth. But the mayor is now touting that 77 percent of voters voted in favor of this tax increase, which is technically correct but still somewhat misleading.
Had more Duluthians had gone to the polls, the outcome could have been very different. If it had been an even-numbered voting year, the outcome likely would have been different. Proponents of the proposed street-improvement tax had to be well aware of this.
The bottom line: moving local elections to even-numbered years would increase participation among Duluth's eligible voters, would align local elections with state and federal elections, would save Duluth taxpayers $120,000 to $165,000, and would eliminate the high cost of holding stand-alone local elections.
This change has our vote. The question is whether it has the nine votes on the City Council needed to make it happen - or whether it will even get to the council now. If one councilor does vote no, at least constituents will know why. It will also provide a reason for putting the question on the ballot in November.
Rob Stenberg is president of Duluth BizPAC, a pro-business political action committee.