Minnesota Representative Steve Simon (D) always greets an elections bill with the same question: What impact will the proposed law have on both urban and rural communities? The query comes from an understanding that every jurisdiction in his state has different needs and conditions for running elections, from Hennepin County and its 712,151 registered voters in and around Minneapolis to the 2,075 voters in Traverse County. “I think most states have what Minnesota has: at least one densely populated metropolitan area and large swaths of rural communities,” he said. “The voting environment is very different in each of those communities.” In this article, The Canvass will examine some key variations between urban and rural jurisdictions, learn how some legislators have balanced a desire for statewide uniformity while still providing local flexibility, consider why innovations tend to take shape in communities with large numbers of voters and peek at a forecast for how such differences in jurisdiction sizes could further impact elections policy.
Because elections are de-centralized, they are guided by local officials and often are shaped by the communities they serve. Los Angeles County, the largest voting jurisdiction in the country with 4.8 million registered voters, employed helicopters to ferry ballots from some of its most distant precincts. Some elections offices in Wisconsin townships are headquartered at the home of the local elections administrator. Those longstanding differences only gained prominence after the clamorous 2000 U.S. presidential contest and its postmortem trained a nation’s focus on the elections process.
That gave rise to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which set new elections standards and injected states with $3 billion in federal funds to improve the country’s voting systems. The law highlighted the divide between how elections worked in urban and rural communities, said Doug Chapin, director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota. “There have always been those tensions,” Chapin said. “You started to see more of a recognition and friction between jurisdictions about where that (HAVA) money would be spent and how it would be spent. The recognition of those differences is very new.”
Full Article: States and Election Reform | The Canvass: October 2014.