Four seats are up for election on the Brainerd City Council come Election Day next Tuesday. But with more than four times the candidates vying for spots in their respective wards and at large seats, the city of Brainerd is considering the idea of conducting a primary election in the future, asking the voters to decide.
Placed on this year’s ballot, the question that will accompany the candidates’ names come Nov. 6 reads as follows:
“Shall Section 4 of the Charter of the city of Brainerd be amended to add language providing for a primary election to be held for the selection of two nominees for each elective office at the regular city election, unless only two nominees file for each elective office, and to further amend Section 4 of the Charter to state that city elections will be canvassed in accordance with state law.”
Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, said the ballot question brought curiosity among chamber board members as to whether a primary will be beneficial for the city of Brainerd.
“We began to do our research to see why might a primary work or not work in the city of Brainerd,” said Paxton, who added that the board decided not to take a stand on the issue because no clear answer was found in the board’s research. “We had lots of questions and then began to compile a list of pros and cons for having a primary in a city the size of Brainerd.
“Clearly it would be easy to say yes, because we have so many candidates, but also you don’t see cities Brainerd’s size often having a primary.”
Speaking with varied city officials as well as Deborah Erickson, of the Crow Wing County Auditor and Treasurer’s Office, to have general questions answered, Paxton said what stuck out to her and board members the most was the following:
• Brainerd has a very engaged electorate.
• The current system has numerous challengers vying for the same position with those elected winning by very narrow margins at times. Paxton drew from examples in the 2008, 2010 and 2011 elections, noting in 2011 Ward 2 race Ed Shaw obtained 33.10 percent of the votes, Jan Burton with 32.20 percent and Kelly Bevans winning with 34.40 percent. “In that case there really was no clear cut winner, they all drew only around 30 percent of the votes,” said
• The current system engages a greater number of eligible voters.
• Less than 9 percent of voters turned out for Minnesota’s primary elections on average across Minnesota. In Brainerd in 2012 the turnout ranged from 9 percent to 17.5 percent.
• Brainerd’s general election in a non-presidential year of 2010 brought 58 percent of eligible voters to the polls and 88 percent of eligible voters in a presidential election year.
• Since Brainerd’s elections are separated into wards, primary candidates in Brainerd could be determined by a very small number of people representing special interests. “Theoretically if we were to have a primary election, we would most likely see a small sect voting in the two officials that will then be decided on Election Day,” said Paxton.
• Most cities in Minnesota the size of Brainerd do not have primary elections. Paxton said that with a population of 13,590, the only cities that research found had a primary and were near Brainerd’s size were Robbinsdale, 13,953 population, and Bemidji, 13,431. Other cities that hold primaries were vastly larger than Brainerd. “Brainerd would be on the small end should they decide to hold a primary with only six other cities in Minnesota having a smaller population and a primary,” Paxton said.
Drawing upon references from Bemidji primaries in recent years, Paxton said that there was an increase in voter turnout with a primary election, going from 18-25 percent in 2008 up to 22-36 percent in 2010. She added that it would also narrow down the choices, creating for potentially less confusion on who to choose come election day. However, Paxton said, that could make it more difficult for lesser known candidates to win a spot on the final ballot following the primary.
Should a primary election become the choice for Brainerd, the fees for filing would remain the same. Filing dates would be adjusted, moving up to mid-May through early June.
“It’s really interesting to note these things and how they could affect our city and the way we not only vote in elected officials, but potentially how those officials then campaign, too,” said Paxton
At-large candidates Chip Borkenhagen, Mary Koep, Bob Olson and Michael Bollinger publicly supported a primary election during the League of Women Voters candidate forum on Oct. 18.
Other candidates up for election are: Candidates for Ward 1 are Amanda Monnier, Sue Hilgart, Joseph Morgan, Dave Pritschet, Rob Garberich and Daniel Egan; Candidates for Ward 3 are Howard Brewer, Jeff Czeczok, Gary Scheeler and John Magnuson. Dondi Allen’s name will be on the ballot, though she announced that she no longer wishes to be considered; At large candidates are Chip Borkenhagen, Mary Koep, Bob Olson, Denny Schmidt, Laura Bisted, David Colvin and Michael Bollinger. Koep and Olson are the incumbents.