New Brighton approves final polling place

City ponders local elections changes

New Brighton's polling places are set for the city’s voters this fall.

The New Brighton City Council approved the city's new Precinct 8 polling place at Sunny Square Park Neighborhood Center during its July 14 council meeting.

The council approved a reconfigured precinct map in March that added three precincts and caused the relocation of many residents to new polling places. 

The council had approved seven of eight polling places on June 23 but postponed the approval of Precinct 8’s at Sunny Square Park Neighborhood Center, 2200 Sunnyside Terrace near New Brighton's northern border and the intersection of Silver Lake Road and County Road H, after some council members questioned whether it could adequately accommodate voters.

Council members Gina Bauman and Brian Strub said the neighborhood center's parking lot didn’t have enough parking spaces to accommodate voters and suggested city clerk Terri Haarstad consider Mounds View High School and Sunnyside Elementary School as potential polling places for Precinct 8.

Haarstad and other New Brighton city staff spoke with the Mounds View School District and Sunnyside's principle but said at the July 14 council meeting that the high school and elementary school were inadequate locations for voters.

Haarstad said the high school had no space to designate for election activities and the elementary school could only provide 12 parking spaces.

Sunny Square Park Neighborhood Center will offer 25 spots in its front lot for voters, in addition to potential spots in its back lot and on the streets near the building, Haarstad said.

She also said she discussed the neighborhood center with staff from New Brighton’s Department of Public Safety and with Ramsey County elections supervisor Joe Mansky.

Public safety staff said no traffic accidents have happened at the park in the past three years, where many events and sports games take place, while Mansky said the neighborhood center’s parking lot could accommodate voters.

Still, some council members had concerns.

Bauman said she still believed the neighborhood center parking lot would be a traffic hazard for voters and would be difficult for some to find. She and council member Mary Burg suggested Atonement Church as a better polling place for Precinct 8.

Despite those concerns, the council approved the final polling place with a 3-2 vote. Council members Bauman and Paul Jacobsen voted against the polling place.

More changes for voters?

While the reconfigured precincts and their respective polling places will take effect this November, more changes could be just around the corner for New Brighton voters.

Haarstad and city council members discussed holding municipal elections on even-numbered years with other state and national elections at a July 7 council work session. The city currently holds municipal elections on odd-numbered years.

According to a memo from Haarstad written to the council, proponents of even-year municipal elections say such elections can save cities money and encourage more people to vote in local elections.

Opponents of even-year municipal elections, she wrote, say these elections can dilute a sense of city-wide identity and civic responsibility, and cause voters to overlook local candidates.

Bauman agreed that even-year elections could disengage voters.

"Engagement is ongoing, not once every two years," Bauman said.

Mayor Dave Jacobsen also agreed even-year elections could cause voters to overlook local elections. These elections would likely result in a larger quantity of voters but not a greater quality, he said.

Strub disagreed with Bauman and Jacobsen.

"I think everybody that shows up on elections day is quality, and everybody that shows up on elections day has some responsibility to vote from the top to the bottom of the ticket," Strub said. "It's not my responsibility to judge what they do, it's mine to get more people to participate in our city elections."

Bauman added she was also opposed to a switch to even-year elections if it would shorten city council members' terms, while Strub and Burg said they would be willing to give up a year of their terms to change to even-year elections.

In the end, council members decided to postpone further discussions on even-year elections until the city could discuss the potential change with the Mounds View School District.

Haarstad said the district would not be required to change from odd to even year elections if the city changed, but Mayor Jacobsen said if the city changed its local elections, it could affect the school district.

If council members decide at a future work session that they would like city staff to draft an ordinance to hold even-year elections and that ordinance is approved, it could go into effect November 2016.

Danielle Korby can be reached at 651-748-7824 or at staffwriter@lillienews.com. Follow her on twitter @daniellejean701.

 

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