Elections Take Spotlight

Minnesota’s elected officials are looking at election changes.

On Thursday alone, lawmakers considered bills to change the primary election date, allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote and establishing a commission to redraw political district lines every 10 years.

All of the issues remain under consideration, and face further committee examinations.

Young teenagers appeared before House and Senate committees to ask lawmakers to allow 16-year-olds to register to vote. It would not lower the voting age, just allow earlier registration.

“The younger you start something, the more likely it is to become a habit,” 15-year-old Edina student Eileen Campbell told the Senate elections subcommittee.

Current law allows 17-year-olds to preregister, with them automatically being registered when they become 18 and can vote.

Dan Thomas-Commins gave Sen. Jim Carlson, D-Eagan, the idea for lowering the registration age. Thomas-Commins, a Carlson constituent, said it could help fight voter apathy.

Carlson’s bill would allow a 16-year-old to preregister when getting a driver’s license.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she is not convinced that earlier preregistration would lead to higher voting turnout. A former secretary of state, Kiffmeyer said that a better way of building interest would be programs like Kids Voting, which allows youths to cast ballots for people running for office.

Voter apathy also was a theme of Republican senators, who propose moving the primary election from August to March.

“I firmly believe we must move the primary date from August to an earlier date, so the voters have an opportunity to focus on the candidates in the general election,” Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said.

Moving the primary to March would add Minnesota to 38 other states to cast votes on the same day in presidential years.

About 10 percent of Minnesota voters cast ballots in last year’s primary, compared to nearly 40 percent who voted in the 1966 primary.

A debate that comes up after every 10-year federal census also was discussed Thursday.

The Legislature and governor are supposed to redraw lines for congressional and legislative districts after each census to maintain the one-person, one-vote concept. However, redistricting has ended up in Minnesota courts since 1960.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, proposed establishing a commission to handle the task. He suggests a five-person panel of retired judges.

“These judges would be responsible for drawing up the new redistricting lines,” he said.

Five states use similar commissions, including Iowa.

The Legislature would be required to approve and reject the commission’s plan.

“I believe there is a conflict of interest in drawing our own district lines,” Eken said.

When one party controls the Legislature and governor’s office, new district lines tend to favor that party.

Secretary of State Steve Simon added his support to Eken’s bill.

“Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Simon said. “To some people, it looks like it is the other way around.”