Minnesota has an enviable, squeaky clean political elections system, right? Not quite. What we do have is the highest voter participation in the nation. But we have not ensured truly democratic elections in our state.
Minnesota, in fact, lags behind other progressive states — like Maine, Arizona, Washington, and California — in election reform. Let’s lead the nation in 2021!
Here are five steps needed to clean up Minnesota elections:
1. Dark money disclosure. All political contributions need to be disclosed to the public.
Super PACS are not all required to disclose their contributors, even though disclosure was supported by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. When candidates receive secret political contributions— often called “dark money” — voters can’t know who is supporting candidates financially and can’t know if elected officials are favoring contributors over constituents.
Other states, like California, have adopted laws requiring disclosure of all contributions over a certain amount. Minnesota allows financial support for mailings and ads distributed just before an election to be kept secret, but 20 states have outlawed this.
An overwhelming 82% of Minnesotans support public disclosure of contributions by organizations involved in elections, according to an October 2020 poll commissioned by Clean Elections Minnesota for Saint Cloud State University .
2. Campaign spending limits. We need a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision that permitted unlimited contributions in campaigns.
The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, allowed unlimited political contributions by corporations, labor unions and the wealthy through Super PACs.
This has led to the election of candidates that favor the economic interests of the wealthy over ordinary citizens.
Ending the unlimited contributions will require a constitutional amendment.
Minnesota can and must take the first step, and send a resolution to Congress calling for an amendment, something 20 states have already done, and most Americans favor.
3. Public financing of campaigns. Today’s enormous influence of special interests in politics can be offset to some extent by partial public financing of campaigns. Until Citizens United is reversed, public financing is the best means to ensure the influence of ordinary citizens in our democracy.
Minnesota presently has a modest public subsidy for candidates who agree to limit their campaign spending. An increase in the subsidy would lessen big contributors’ influence over politicians.
A bill (HF 9) is progressing in the Minnesota House that would establish a small donor contribution program that would allow the state to match contributions to political campaigns up to $100 per contributor. If the contributor is from the candidates district, the match would be six times the contribution. Nearly nine out of ten (88%) Americans want to reduce the influence that large donors have over lawmakers.
4. The candidate with the most votes wins the presidency. A National Public Vote InterstateCompact law would require Minnesota’s electoral votes to go to the presidential candidate with the most popular votes nationwide.
The Electoral College system has recently twice resulted in the electing a President with fewer popular votes than the opponent. In 2016, the winning candidate lost the popular vote by three million votes.
Because of this, the election battle only occurs in roughly eight to ten states where the outcome appears to be in doubt.
Because the Constitution makes the states preeminent in elections, it is not necessary to modify the Constitution to make a change. Adoption of a state law would mean that Minnesota’s electoral votes would go to the winner of the national popular vote, but only when states with 270 electoral votes agree to pass the same legislation.
An overwhelming 75% of Minnesotans say the presidential winner should be the candidate with the most votes.
5. End partisan gerrymandering with citizen input. An independent citizen’s commission to advise the Legislature on redistricting would limit gerrymandering.
After the decennial completion of the U.S. Census, the Legislature is required to draw new legislative and Congressional districts to reflect the population changes. But legislators often draw maps to the advantage of individual incumbent legislators or to the advantage of the majority political party, which is called “gerrymandering.
In Wisconsin, the maps were drawn so that in 2018 the majority party in the Assembly had 63.6% of the seats, but had only 45.8% of the statewide vote. Citizen Involvement Reduces Chance of Partisan Excess. Minnesota has avoided an extreme situation like this, but in recent decades the Minnesota Supreme Court has drawn our district maps. r We need to be sure the Wisconsin result doesn’t occur here. We need citizens to be involved in the decision.
Nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans support having congressional districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission of citizens.