New Brighton council sends letter to residents explaining even-year election move

New Brighton residents recently found an unusual letter from the city in their mailboxes.

Titled “Even-Year Local Elections — A Community Engagement Priority,” the letter, which was read during the Feb. 13 city council meeting and signed by the mayor and city council, was mailed to every resident, published in the city newsletter and posted to the city’s website and blog. 

It was written in regard to the New Brighton City Council’s Dec. 12 decision to, once again, change the year of the city’s elections from odd to even years.

The action was supported by everyone on the council except then-council member Gina Bauman. Bauman, who lost reelection in November, has been against the even-year election shift since the last time it was considered.

In 2015, the council voted to switch the city’s municipal elections from odd to even years, listing voter turnout and saving money as primary reasons, but the action was reversed by a judge.

The November 2015 decision meant shortening Bauman and former council member Brian Strub’s terms, and lengthening the term of then-mayor-elect Val Johnson. 

It was ultimately deemed unlawful by a judge after residents, headed by Bauman, petitioned to rescind the action. 

The main issue with the council’s last try was the timing of it. The vote to switch from odd-to even-year municipal elections — and change term lengths in doing so — came just weeks after the 2015 elections took place, meaning voters werenít getting what they voted for, their candidates’ expected term lengths. 

In an effort to make the latest attempt stick, the New Brighton council made the change more than 180 days before filing day for the next municipal election, and wrote the letter.


Explainer signed, delivered

The letter, written by the city council with help from city staff, was put together to help the public understand the thought process behind the decision, City Manager Dean Lotter said at the Feb. 13 meeting, “despite some of the politics and the political rhetoric that is going to be, and has already been, put out there.”

In the letter, the New Brighton council compares the number of residents voting in the odd-year election last November, which was about 4,800, with the even-year 2014 U.S. Senate election turnout of over 8,800 and the nearly 13,000 voters who showed for the 2016 presidential election. 

“By any measure, voter interest expands in even-numbered years and shrinks in odd years,” the letter says.

According to the letter, of the 854 cities in Minnesota, only 26 hold odd-year municipal elections. The reason most cities have even-year elections, the letter states, is for higher turnout, saving money and increasing efficiency by alleviating city staff of both odd and even year election pressure.  

“It’s a supreme waste of staff resources,” said Lotter.

Council member Mary Burg said she’s advocated the change throughout her 14 years on the council. “It allows for more voter participation, which is the basis for our democracy.”

Agreeing with Burg, council member Paul Jacobson said “every vote matters.”


Term extensions 

According to the letter, if a city moves from odd to even year elections, the current term for the existing mayor and council are extended one year. 

Moving the next city elections from 2019 to 2020 bumps Mayor Val Johnson’s term up to three years and council members Emily Dunsworth, Graeme Allen, Burg and Jacobson’s terms to five years.

Extending terms is one aspect of the even-year change that Bauman strongly objected to, calling it “self-serving” prior to the Dec. 12 vote. 

Though no longer on the council, Bauman said she will work towards another petition aiming to again stop the even-year election ordinance. 

The New Brighton council’s public letter calls term extensions “an imperfect result,” stating there is “no way” to make the even-year change without temporarily changing terms, but “higher voter turnout will last forever, as will savings for our taxpayers.”


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at or 651-748-7815

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