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FairVote MN testimony to Minneapolis Charter Commission re filing fees for municipal office

To: Minneapolis Charter Commission

From: FairVote Minnesota

Date: July 2, 2014

Subject: Testimony Regarding Filing Fees for Public Office

I am Mike Griffin, the Director of Campaigns with FairVote Minnesota. FairVote Minnesota is working to raise awareness and implement Ranked Choice Voting in cities throughout the state.

As you know, Minneapolis voters had 35 mayoral candidates to rank among last November. This large number of candidates many of whom seemed to be running recreationally was unnecessary, and added cost and delay to the tabulation of the ballots. Under Ranked Choice Voting, theres no primary election to narrow the field, providing voters with more choice on the ballot in November when turnout is higher and more diverse. This is just what the new system is designed to do.

However, the unusually high number of candidates we saw last year was the result of several factors, including a competitive open mayoral race (the first in two decades), no DFL endorsement in that race and easy access to the ballot for candidates who were not intending to run serious campaigns. The filing threshold in the Minneapolis charter defers to a decades old threshold established in MN statute. Its time to update the requirement even if the city still had traditional primary-general elections. Theres simply no need for voters to be faced with a long list of candidates on a primary or a general election ballot who are not intending to actually mount a campaign to capture votes.

The premise of a filing fee is to ascertain some level of seriousness about running for office, and the current level simply doesnt do that. A higher filing fee is in order. FairVote Minnesota in no way intends this to unfairly place a financial burden on aspiring candidates. In fact, our preference is that candidates demonstrate their intention to run a campaign by collecting signatures of support. And current law allows for this option: A minimum threshold of demonstrated support via signature collection (lesser of 500 signatures or 5% of votes in the previous municipal election) is already written into Minnesota State statue 204B.11 under candidate filing for office_ this would ensure voters can choose from a slate of candidates who take running for elected office seriously. But because the filing fee is so low, few, if any, candidates elect to collect signatures over paying $20.

FairVote Minnesota supported the city council proposal of raising the fee for mayoral candidates to $250 (Option 2), which we believe is a step in the right direction.  But we  encourage you to support Option 1 that you are considering tonight, which would increase the filing fee for Mayor to $500. This fee is consistent with St. Pauls filing threshold and we believe is a more effective barometer of a candidates intentions to mount a citywide campaign. Again, keep in mind that  candidates do not need to pay this amount if they cannot afford it; they retain the option to collect a minimum number of signatures. I want to make clear that FairVote MN would not support this increase if there were not a signature collection option in lieu of a filing fee.

To provide you with some comparative perspective, San Francisco which has used RCV since 2004 requires a mayoral filing fee of 2 percent of the mayors salary $5,048 in 2011 and offers a discount via petition signatures. Thats too rich for Minnesota blood; but it shows that the major U.S. city with the most experience with RCV sees merit in combining the voting method with a filing fee large enough to give pause to those candidates without the serious intention of running. San Franciscos mayoral race attracted a much more reasonable 12 candidates in 2007 and 16 in 2011.

FairVote Minnesotas mission is to implement voting systems that lead to greater competitiveness, better representation and more participation in elections. In short, Ranked Choice Voting offers more choice and more power to voters. While we encourage more candidates to run for office, we also want candidates on the ballot who take the job seriously. A $500 filing fee for mayoral office is a reasonable and necessary charter change that we support, when combined with the statutory option to collect a minimum number of signatures. Thank you for letting me speak with you tonight.

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