- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Star Tribune, July 20

Minnesota should pursue reasonable strategies to make voting easier

Minnesotans who defeated a proposed photo ID amendment to the state Constitution in 2012 may be following a North Carolina voting rights trial with a certain degree of smugness. They may think that democracy-loving Minnesotans wouldn’t stand for the moves that have landed the North Carolina Legislature in federal court, accused of suppressing the African-American vote.

We’d like to think so, too. But we must note that while North Carolina lawmakers shaved a week off that state’s early voting period, Minnesota does not permit early voting at all - though it does offer “no excuses” absentee voting, which is more administratively complex and prone to voter error than actual early voting. Minnesota also does not allow preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and “out-of-precinct” voting, both of which North Carolina allowed, then dropped in 2013. Minnesota 17-year-olds are allowed to register only if they will be 18 on Election Day.

North Carolina also repealed Election Day registration. That’s a much-used convenience that Minnesota has permitted since 1974. It has served this state well. Yet Election Day registration is still viewed with suspicion - unfounded, we believe - in some Minnesota quarters as a potential source of fraud.

Minnesotans rightfully take pride in their state’s record of comparatively high voter participation. But pride ought not blind Minnesotans to the possibility that this state could do more to encourage voting.

Two promising ideas for making voter registration more convenient have recently surfaced - one locally, one nationally. In Minneapolis, Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey has offered a simple suggestion to remind new renters to register to vote at their new address. He would have the city require landlords to give new tenants voter registration information, including both a paper form that could be mailed to election administrators and advice about how to register to vote online. Landlords would need to dispense a piece of paper - nothing more.

Frey, 33, knows from personal experience that many young adults are renters who move frequently and often don’t have voting at the top of mind as they cope with the other adjustments that new living quarters require. Unless registering to vote is more convenient, he says, those young voters are likely to skip that step - and having done so, they’re less likely to vote at all, especially if they encounter long lines at registration tables on Election Day.

Frey’s idea seems worth pursuing. So does a move by the New Jersey Legislature to make voter registration automatic when a citizen obtains a driver’s license, as Oregon already has done. That proposal hangs under a veto threat by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose presidential candidacy assures wide notice for Christie’s decision. We hope that notice extends to Minnesota, where Secretary of State Steve Simon favors amending an existing “motor voter” law to make registration an “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” option.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey reported last week by the Washington Post found that the most common reason nonvoters cited for staying away from the polls in 2014 was “I’m too busy.” That response is an indictment of voting procedures that strike many voters as time-consuming, inconvenient and complicated. It tells us that even in high-turnout Minnesota, democracy’s stewards should seek new ways to make voting a more inclusive exercise.

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St. Cloud Times, July 20

As state surplus grows, push legislators for answers

The end of Minnesota’s fiscal year - June 30 - brought 555 million reasons the state should be happy. That’s how much more money it collected in revenues than it thought it would back in February.

You remember February, don’t you? That’s when the state legislators were trying to determine the state’s next budget - and had almost $2 billion extra to help solve problems. By May, though, they could not reach agreement. It took a June special session to find a solution - and it was one that left about $865 million unspent.

Add in this new $555 million and when the 2016 session convenes in February, legislators - all of whom face re-election nine months later - will have about $1.42 billion to spend on that objective.

Oops. Did we say that out loud?

While that comment is made mostly in jest, there are strands of truth in it.

This board finds it quite disconcerting that the refusal of legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to reasonably resolve their budgeting and policy differences in one session actually means all (except Dayton) will be rewarded the next session with even more money to spend (or refund) so close to an election.

Also, don’t forget that 2016 is an even-numbered year, and in those the Legislature and governor typically agree on a state bonding bill. Based on recent history, don’t be surprised if the final amount in that bill is north of $1.5 billion, perhaps even $2 billion.

In other words, legislators could have from $2 billion to almost $3 billion to spread among everything from tax reform to refunds to state-owned bricks and mortar when they convene in 2016. The only mandate now is to take about $40 million from that budget surplus and put in the state’s “rainy day” fund.

No matter if you’re a red or blue legislator, that’s a lot of green to help voters forget the political dysfunction that pushed the state to a special session last month to avoid a partial government shutdown this month.

With that in mind, this board urges voters to start asking their legislative candidates now what they plan to do with the state’s surplus. With the election coming, it’s a safe bet they won’t leave it unspent again.

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The Free Press of Mankato, July 20

Worth keeping pools afloat

Cities keep pooling together funding to keep summer swimming facilities open, and it’s to the benefit of our area communities.

It’s no surprise pools are not a money-making venture for cities that have them. They weren’t built to make a profit; just like civic centers and libraries, they are attractions that add to communities’ quality of life. And in the summer, pools make a big splash.

City leaders know that funding pool operations means giving residents and visitors, especially youth and families, a healthy summertime activity to participate in. Yes, roads, bridges and water plants are important, but so are the amenities that make people want to live here.

With that in mind, cities have been supportive of keeping their pools operating, but it hasn’t come without headaches. In Waseca, its large water park was $1,248 in the red at the end of 2014, despite a $100,000 transfer from its general fund to supplement operations, according to city financial documents. In North Mankato the city put off several improvements at the pool this year, including equipment replacements and upgrades to its shelter, because of the minimum wage increase that affects pool staff.

Pools need people to run them and keep users safe, and pools also need regular maintenance to keep them open. It’s obvious that ignoring little problems means that big problems will eventually surface. Membership fees may need to be tweaked now and then, but user fees are not going to make a pool profitable - ever.

So if communities value their facilities, they have to spend money on them. That’s just part of keeping residents’ wishes afloat.

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