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Editorial: Better plan needed on election date picks

Minnesota faces a growing concern of politics creeping into special election dates selected by the governor.

Certainly, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's announcement Tuesday of a special election Dec. 27 in Senate District 15 and House District 15B raised concerns. The election date is just two days after Christmas.

This date selection right after Christmas will find the majority of voters more focused on family visits and gift returns. This date selection is even more suspect when one considers that both districts are home to St. Cloud State University, which will be on winter break. On both counts, a low voter turnout will result due to the Dec. 27 date selected.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson on Tuesday quickly questioned the Dec. 27 decision calling Pawlenty "The governor who stole Christmas." Johnson was correct to raise the concern.

Pawlenty's odd date selection is the second in two months. The last special election date was Tuesday, just two days before Thanksgiving, in Districts 19 and 43. This date was only two weeks after the normal date for November elections.

Low-turnout special elections historically have favored Republican candidates, but no one knows which voter group will turn out in any special election. In Tuesday's special election, the Democrats won Senate District 43 when DFL'er Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka was elected, while the GOP kept Senate District 19 as Republican Amy Koch of Buffalo was elected.

The biggest concern is voter confusion. There have been 175 special elections on 43 different days this year alone. The majority of those special elections were for school district referendums.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is the state's chief election official. This week the Republican state official raised appropriate concerns that the high number of special elections was causing "voter weariness."

Kiffmeyer proposed the state consider limiting special elections to one per quarter per year. It is a solid idea worth strong consideration by the 2006 Legislature.

Combining special elections on one day per quarter would raise the identity of candidates and the visibility of issues on the ballot. At the same time, it could help reduce voting day expenses. It would also eliminate the opportunity and/or the perception of political considerations in the selection of special election dates.