What’s on your ballot? Getting ready to vote next Tuesday

A voter takes a sticker after casting his ballot.
A voter takes a sticker after casting his ballot at Bryn Mawr Community School in Minneapolis, MN on November 8, 2016.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

You don’t have to wait until the 2020 Presidential Election to vote. You can cast a ballot next week. Tuesday, Nov. 5, is Election Day and there’s a wide range of races and issues voters in Minnesota can weigh in on.

There are city council members to elect, school board members to choose and school referendums to decide, and in the city of St. Paul there’s the trash collection debate that’s gone all the way to the state supreme court before returning to the voters and the ballot.

Off-year elections don’t get the voter turnout that presidential or statewide elections do, but this year there’s a lot of interest in what’s on the ballot in some cities.

Host Angela Davis previewed what’s on the ballot on Nov. 5 with three guests:

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David Maeda, director of elections with the state of Minnesota.

Erin Golden, Star Tribune statewide education reporter.

Fred Melo, St. Paul City Hall Bureau Chief for the Pioneer Press.

How to vote and why it’s important

Voter turnout will really depend on the issues in your town, Maeda said. The St. Paul trash collection debate is expected to urge more voters to the polls.

St. Louis Park will be implementing ranked-choice voting this election — making it the third Minnesota city to do so, behind Minneapolis and St. Paul. So if you live in any of those cities, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with that process, Maeda said.

You can find your polling place as well as a sample ballot at the Secretary of State’s website.

It’s too late to pre-register to vote, Maeda said, but you can still register at your polling place the day you vote. Click here for more information on how to do that.

It’s important that Minnesotans still come out and vote in odd-year elections even though there typically isn’t as much campaigning or media attention around local elections, Maeda said.

“I can tell you that the decisions that the (city) councils and school boards make really effect people’s lives” he said. “It’s everything from how you’re going to fund street maintenance, to your police and fire services, to even if a council has to grant a variance to your neighbor so they can redo their house.”

What are school referendums?

Minnesota schools are funded through a few different sources, education reporter Erin Golden said. About two-thirds of the funding comes from the state, a little over a quarter comes from local funding — that’s where referendums come in — and the federal government picks up the rest.

Over 30 schools across the state have bond referendums on the ballot in order to help with school building projects. There are over 40 schools that are looking to pass operating referendums — funding for general purposes not necessarily tied to a project, Golden said.

They can have pretty big price tags, too.

In the White Bear Lake district, voters will help decide whether to approve Minnesota’s largest bond referendum ever — $326 million. It would help cover a few projects including remodeling one of their current buildings into a larger campus to host all of their high schoolers, who are currently spread out by grade in different buildings miles apart.

Hoping to get ahead of expected population growth, Rochester also has a sizable bond referendum on the ballot — $171 million — for a new middle school and some remodeling in other buildings.

In Moorhead, where there has also been a lot of growth, there is a $110 million bond on the ballot for a new high school and career academy facility, Golden said.

The school district in Worthington has been trying for the past six years to pass bond referendums to improve and expand their facilities but voters have said no every time, Golden said. The last vote, which took place in February was closer — defeated by 17 votes.

“So they’re trying again,” Golden said. “There’s a lot of growth there. I know there are schools where classes are being held in hallways or closets or that kind of thing.”

There would be a few different questions on the ballot but the main bond referendums add up to about $34 million, she said.

Most of the districts will reach out to the community and provide information on their websites about the needs of the schools and what the tax impact would be for individual tax payers.

The Minnesota School Board Association website is another good resource for more information, she said.