City dips into reserve funds for elections

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Although 2011 is an off-election year, the City of Minneapolis is scrambling to prepare for a pair of special elections.

Because the city didn’t budget for special voting, the city’s elections office is underfunded and understaffed, Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl said.

The city will draw $324,000 from its contingency fund, which is used for emergencies and unplanned expenses.

The contingency fund, which contains roughly $6.6 million, has been used for extra salt on the roads, reducing city layoffs and for recovery costs for the tornado that struck north Minneapolis in the spring.

The special elections on Jan. 10 will fill vacancies in Senate District 59, which includes the University of Minnesota, and House District 61B, which opened when two elected leaders took other positions. Primaries for those elections will be held two weeks from Tuesday on Dec. 6.

While special elections are not rare, Carl said that having this many of them in an off-election year is very unusual. Minneapolis held another special election in October to replace another departing state senator.

“We’d have to go back more than 10, maybe even 20 years to find this many special elections in one year,” he said.

Ben Hecker, policy aide to Minneapolis City Councilwoman Betsy Hodges, said pulling from the fund will likely not have any noticeable impact, but it does have risks.

“Any time you dip into the contingency fund, it impacts the city’s ability to react to future emergencies. It’s definitely not insignificant,” Hecker said.

Also, the City Clerks Office, which manages the elections, hasn’t yet hired an assistant city clerk — a position that oversees elections — which leaves the department understaffed.

Peter Wagenius, a candidate for the District 59 Senate seat, said the election cycle has moved incredibly fast.

“I’ve inquired with some folks, informally, wondering if this is perhaps the fastest [speed] allowable by law [for a special election],” Wagenius.

Candidates for state Representative District 61B had six days to decide if they wanted to run. Candidates for state Senate District 59 had just three days to decide.

The vacancy in Senate District 59 occurred after Senator Larry Pogemiller resigned to become director of the Office of Higher Education. It will be the first time in almost 30 years that the district will have a new senator.

The vacancy in House District 61B was caused by Representative Jeff Hayden resigning after his win in the Senate District 61 special election in October.

Special elections tend to have a significantly lower voter turnout than regular elections. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that although special elections are much smaller, it is tough to predict how popular the elections will be.

Polls will open at 7 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 6 for a special partisan primary that will narrow down each political party’s candidates. Five Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates are currently in the running for Senate District 59, and just one Republican registered for that election.

The general elections, which will decide which candidates will fill the vacancies, take place Jan. 10.

There are nearly 40 polling locations to vote for the elections. These locations can be found on the City of Minneapolis’ website.

Voters that aren’t registered in the district can register at polling places on election days as long as they provide proof of residence. Forms for absentee voting are available through the Secretary of State’s website.

The Minnesota Daily is co-hosting a candidate forum for the candidates in the Senate District 59 special election at 7 p.m., Nov. 28 at Murphy Hall 130.