Our View: More voters, less cost? Yes, please

What's this? A chance to cut government spending by $120,000 to $165,000? Few taxpayers could say no to that. Add in the benefit of more of Duluth's eligible voters participating in local elections, and a proposal to change up when City Council, St.
Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons
Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

What's this? A chance to cut government spending by $120,000 to $165,000? Few taxpayers could say no to that.

Add in the benefit of more of Duluth's eligible voters participating in local elections, and a proposal to change up when City Council, St. Louis County, and Duluth School Board elections are held starts to sound like a no-brainer.

A study group has been exploring whether to conduct local elections during even-numbered years, coinciding with higher-profile state and federal races, including even presidential races, as the News Tribune reported last week. Local elections are held in odd-numbered years now. The study group is advising the Duluth Charter Commission, which would make a recommendation to the Duluth City Council.

Switching years would eliminate the high cost of holding stand-alone local elections. "It's a financial no-brainer," Duluth Charter Commission member Jeff Anderson said in the News Tribune. "Any time you can save a few hundred thousand dollars for taxpayers, that's a good thing."

So is higher voter participation and more of us engaged in and invested in picking our leaders at the municipal and county levels.

Fewer than 28 percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots in the 2017 local election. By contrast, in the 2018 midterm congressional election, 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. Piggy-backing on state and federal elections almost certainly would drive up voter participation in the local races.

Concerns about local races getting lost in the enormous shadow of state and federal runs are legitimate. But they can be countered by a bit of extra effort on the part of candidates and voters alike. Those running for office already should be doing all they can to make sure voters know who they are, where they stand, and why they're the best choice. Likewise, voters have a responsibility to educate themselves and to do their homework before going to their polling places. Casting an informed vote - on all races, and not just on the biggies - is our responsibility and duty as voting and decision-making citizens.

Local elections on the same ballots as higher-profile races means local elections that are more on voters' radars; we're in "election mode" because of all the attention given to statewide and federal runs.

This shift to elections in Duluth being held in even-numbered years can be recommended by the Charter Commission to the Duluth City Council. A unanimous nine-councilor vote then will be needed to start saving taxpayers serious money while also increasing voter participation and engagement in local government.