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Meeting with Joe Mansky
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, October 6,
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje (by phone), Jim Hetland, Jim Olson
(by phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager
Context of the meeting—The
Civic Caucus is beginning an inquiry into whether changes in election laws
would help reduce polarization and paralysis in the Minnesota
Legislature. Today the Caucus is meeting with Joseph Mansky, Ramsey
County elections manager since 2001. Prior to coming to
he was the manager of Governor Jesse Ventura’s redistricting commission.
He also served 15 years on the elections staff of the
secretary of state’s office, the last 11 years as state election director.
In this and
other summaries the words “caucus” and “caucuses” may apply to different
groups. The “Civic Caucus” is an independent, non-partisan, tax exempt
educational group. Precinct caucuses” are provided by state law and
represent the first step in the political party endorsement process.
“Legislative caucuses” or “House Republican (or DFL) caucus” or “Senate
Republican or (DFL) caucus” are the political organizational groups within
Introduction of the topic:
Verne said we are looking preliminarily at several issues, including the
role of the precinct caucuses, party endorsement, dates of primaries,
party designation, campaign finance, redistricting, at-large races,
instant runoff voting, the presidential primary, and election fraud.
The Civic Caucus will have to narrow the list for detailed review.
C. Comments by Mansky:
During Mansky’s comments and in give-and-take with the Civic Caucus, the
following points were made:
1. Moving to an earlier primary—Mansky
recalled the recommendations from a bipartisan commission put together in
1994 by then Secretary of State Joan Growe. Among commission participants
were Ron Abrams and Sheila Kiscaden, Republicans, and Carol Flynn and
Bernie Lieder, Democrats. The Growe commission recommended that
Minnesota’s September primary be moved to the first Tuesday in August,
although some persons from both major parties were suggesting dates in
Mansky said that strictly from an administrative standpoint it
is extremely difficult for election officials to get all the preparatory
for the general election when the primary occurs in September. Thus, any
amount of pushing the primary date back will satisfy him.
Political parities prefer a later primary because it helps the
endorsed candidates, he said. If the primary is too early, an endorsed
candidate with primary challenges might end up exhausting campaign funds
before the primary election. It’s comparatively easy for someone to get
on the ballot. All it takes to file for State Legislature on a major
party is a $100 filing fee and an affidavit. For Congress the fee is
Civic Caucus member commented that polarization in the Legislature seems
to have produced more endorsed candidates on the left and right and fewer
toward the middle. The member wondered whether such candidates should
receive preferential treatment via a later primary. Mansky said that it’s
increasingly difficult for moderate candidates to be supported or welcomed
in their own party.
2. Growing polarization is aided
by trends in Washington, D. C.—Polarization
in the State Legislature seems to have accelerated since the early 1990s,
when persons who had worked with Congress began showing up on the staff of
the State Legislature and bringing with them highly partisan
organizational practices, Mansky said.
3. Problems of precinct caucuses—Precinct
caucuses, provided by state law, occur in early March Precinct
caucuses are the beginning of the process that produces party endorsement.
While anyone can participate, Mansky said, the precinct caucuses seem to
attract the political activists with more extreme positions. A Civic
Caucus member said it is almost impossible to get widespread participation
in precinct caucuses. The member suggested greater use of new technology
to increase involvement.
4. Rising role of the
legislative caucuses and diminishing role of the political parties—Political
parties in Minnesota are weak when it comes to the Legislature, Mansky
said. The Republican and DFL caucuses in the House and Senate (four
different groups) each is responsible for recruitment of candidates,
fundraising, and political campaign strategy for the legislative races.
The political parties are not involved. Thus the top caucus leadership,
Speaker of the House, House minority leader, Senate majority leader and
Senate minority leader are the most significant persons when it comes to
the election process for legislators.
In response to a question, Mansky clarified that such an
arrangement means that the same persons whose leadership is key in passage
of legislation are also the persons whose leadership is key in the entire
campaign process. The caucus leadership handpicks the persons to run for
The political party platform means very little in legislative
races, he said. Each legislative caucus leadership has its own set of
top issues that constitute the platform, which is not publicly circulated
as is a political party platform.
5. Comparison with other states—Verne
turned to Jim Olson, who resides in
to comment on differences with Minnesota. Olson said that in
political conventions and endorsements occur after the primary.
6. A way to improving voting—Mansky
suggested that rather than being open only one day the polls might
opened from Friday to Tuesday and that polling places would be located
where people normally congregate, such as major shopping centers or large
office complexes. A person need not vote in his or her precinct of
residence, Mansky said. We have enough technology available today that
someone could go into any polling place which, after verification of the
individual’s identity and residence, could immediately prepare the
appropriate ballot for that person.
7. Campaign finance changes—Mansky
said meaningful changes in campaign finance must first occur at the
federal level. But instead of making major efforts to shut off the flow
of money, Mansky would provide free access to qualified candidates for U.
S. Postal Service mailings (as is now granted to members of Congress) plus
free access to TV and radio. Such a step would not eliminate the problem
of some candidates raising much more money than others, but every
qualified candidate would have an opportunity for the public to learn
about the candidate’s position on issues. Another reason Mansky is not
anxious to reduce the flow of funds is that large amounts of money are
needed to campaign in large districts, such as a statewide race in
or the presidential race nationally.
8. Change the nature of TV
that TV political ads are negative and might inaccurately represent views
of candidates. But he said he is a libertarian on this issue. He tends
to trust that voters themselves will discern the value and accuracy of TV
ads. You must understand, he said, that negative TV ads are designed to
discourage people in the middle from voting and to fire up the people on
9. Both parties able to get out the vote—Mansky
said that the 2004 election in Minnesota had the highest voter turnout
since the 1960s. Both parties are very capable at mobilizing their
voters, he said. Neither has an advantage over the other in Minnesota.
10. Reduce the size of
good way to make the Legislature more diverse is to reduce the size of
legislative districts, Mansky suggested. Currently a House district in
covers about 36,000 people. If you reduced the size to about 20,000
people, then people of lesser means could find it possible to run. With
20,000 people in a district, someone could easily door-knock the entire
district, and wouldn’t’ require a vast campaign treasury..
11. Provide for three at-large
offices in each legislative district?—Mansky
noted that it is almost impossible today for a DFL candidate to win in
strong Republican areas, such as on the northwest fringe of the metro area
or for a Republican candidate to win in a strong DFL area, such as in
Minneapolis. Mansky suggested that three representatives could be
elected from each district. Each party would be limited to not more than
two nominees in the district, thereby assuring that a strong DFL district
would have one GOP representative and two DFL representatives and a strong
GOP district would have one DFL representative and two GOP
Mansky said that prior to 1970 Illinois had a system of
multi-candidate districts, with each party guaranteed at least one seat in
each district. Jim Olson, a Civic Caucus member who resides in Illinois,
commented that the Daley machine controlled the Republican nominees as
well as the Democratic nominees.
12. A unicameral Legislature—Mansky
spent some time in Nebraska and is a supporter of the unicameral. The
single body could have multi-member districts, with cumulative voting
allowed in each district.
13. Desirability of instant
runoff voting (IRV)—Mansky was asked to comment on the
potential of IRV. He said he questions whether the fear of a wasted vote
is an appropriate reason to be supporting IRV. He disputes that any vote
is wasted. He said he voted for Jesse Ventura in 1998 because he wanted
to support the Ventura position. Even if Ventura had not been elected,
Mansky said his vote would not have been wasted. Another person said
that the rationale behind IRV is more related to stimulating candidates to
adopt more moderate positions, knowing that they need to attract second
and third choice votes, not just top choice votes. Mansky said IRV would
work in competitive districts but not in those that are lop-sided toward
one party or another. A question of constitutionality of IRV is present,
Mansky said, based on a 1915 Minnesota Supreme Court decision. Mansky
also said that he senses a strong bias in
in favor of a two-party system; thus he doesn’t see the usefulness of IRV.
14. Making it easier to serve in the
Legislature and hold another job—Mansky
said he doesn’t advocate restrictions on when the Legislature may meet
during a calendar year. However, he thinks that it might be possible—for
metro area legislators at least—to hold down an outside job if more
legislative business took place during the late afternoon or evening.
15. Changes in presidential
primaries?—Mansky favors a
regional primary, say for the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota,
North Dakota, and South Dakota.
16. Declaring party preference
in the primary?—With 40
percent of Minnesota voters not listing a party preference, he doesn’t
think it advisable to require that a primary election voter declare party
affiliation in order to vote in the primary.
17. Fixing gerrymandering—Mansky
advocates that the Legislature be the final decision-maker on
redistricting. But he would favor establishing an independent
redistricting commission whose recommendations the Legislature could vote
up or down but not modify. If the Legislature failed to adopt a
commission-recommended plan, the judiciary would step in. Mansky would
place definitions in state law for such terms as “compactness”,
“contiguity”, “competitiveness” and “community of interest”. He’d require
that the political makeup of proposed districts be clearly identified in
whatever proposal emerges from a redistricting commission.
of the Civic Caucus expressed their thanks to Mansky for his challenging,
candid, well-considered, and far-reaching comments.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.