Thursday, December 8, 2016

The City Spot Café: Tied Elections and Coin Flips

What you need to know right now about tied city elections, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: When an election results in a tie, state law requires the canvassing board to declare the winner of the tie “by lot.”

Plain-language explanation: “By lot” means determining the winner of a tie by any game of chance in which both candidates have an equal chance of winning—like flipping a coin or drawing straws.Some cities decided the winner on one toss; whereas, some require a showing of best out of five. Sometimes an additional game of chance is used to pick what type of coin to use, with an election official pulling a quarter or a silver dollar out of hat.

Although seemingly one of the weirder traditions of American democracy, deciding “by lot” is a commonly accepted practice across the country. The roots of election by lottery stretch back to ancient Athens and, at very least, present a better choice than having a duel between the candidates.

In the news: The 2016 elections had no shortage of tied elections. By far, the coin toss represented the most popular method of breaking a tie, with heads-or-tails determining elections in a number of communities, including (but likely not limited to) Thief River Falls, Menahga, Breezy Point and Lake Lillian. Beaver Bay took a more unique approach this year and drew cards, with the highest card winning. Some communities get more creative and, in one past election, the winner won a tie election by drawing a designated game piece out of a bag.

Pros: Most cannot dispute that deciding a winner “by lots” gives both sides an equal chance (thus making it fair) and represents an efficient and fast decision-making process. Other alternatives may involve bias (like allowing an election official to make the decision) or cause great expense (like organizing a special election).

Cons: When an outcome of a blind chance game has great import, like an election, some believe that the mere use of randomness is undemocratic, since it means an elected official won for no reason other than mere chance. Many have trouble rationalizing that the months of campaigning could come down to blind chance.

League position: The League recognizes that state law dictates the process for breaking ties “by lot.” Any different approach to breaking ties would need to come from the Legislature.

Resource: Want additional information on elections, election administrations, and breaking ties? The Handbook for Minnesota Cities' chapter on election procedures (chapter 5) has a lot of useful information, as does the city clerk election guide from the Minnesota Secretary of State. For information on special elections, see the League’s Special Election Memo.

This information has been compiled by, Pamela Whitmore, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: Email Pam at or call her at 651-281-1224.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Another Metro Regional Meeting is in the Books!

A huge *thank you* to everyone who attended the 2016 Metro Regional Meeting! City officials from communities across the Twin Cities area gathered in Brooklyn Center on Nov. 30 to connect through conversation.

Our speakers that day presented meaningful and timely municipal topics—from exploring which strategies are most effective for dealing with difficult personalities to learning how to engage residents and create more vibrant cities, to hearing an election-year update from both Secretary of State Steve Simon and MinnPost political journalist Peter Callaghan.

Metro Cities Executive Director Patricia Nauman welcomes city officials to the
Metro Area Management Association (MAMA) luncheon that kicked off the afternoon.

LMC Executive Director David Unmacht says a few words to greet the metro-area municipal officials.

Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber (left) was one of more
than 100 Twin Cities metro-area officials who attended this year's meeting.

Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses the results of the 2016 election.

We're so happy to have spent a rewarding afternoon with you this fall—we hope you got as much out of it as we did. Hope to see you soon at another LMC event!

Photo credit: James Robins of Robins Consulting and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Veterans Day Message From LMC's Executive Director

A Veterans Day message from Executive Director Dave Unmacht:
My father was a staff sergeant in the Korean War.  He was in college for two years, then served two years in the Army before returning to finish his bachelor’s degree.  Like many men of his generation he did not talk much about his time in Korea, even though he was very proud of his service. 
The same is true for many men and women who serve our country and who on this Veterans Day deserve our special thanks and recognition.  Beyond their military service, many of these same men and women have continued to contribute to public service through involvement in city government as elected officials or staff.
All of us at the League are profoundly thankful for the rights and privileges that our veterans fought for and worked to protect.  It is with honor and respect on behalf of the Board of Directors and staff that I want to express our gratitude to all former and current members of our military for your dedication and commitment to this country. I am extraordinarily proud of my dad for his service and of all veterans who deserve special recognition on this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thank You, Local Election Officials

Local election officials and staff: as you work to complete the many administrative tasks required after election day that no one ever sees, we want to extend some words of encouragement to everyone in our member cities who needs an extra cup o' joe today. You rock.

And special thanks go to you for all of your work administering absentee balloting for early-bird voters this year, who participated to the tune of well over 600,000 votes cast in Minnesota prior to election day. Wowza.

You are doing a great job serving the voters of Minnesota. We know it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources; and we here at the League know you deserve a slow clap and a hearty THANK YOU!

P.S. If you thought your colleagues across the state seemed extra busy this year, you'd be right. Take LMC's homepage poll through Nov. 20 to see just how many city seats there were on the ballot this year.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Do Your City’s Codes Need Some TLC?

This old code book lives in the archives of the
League of Minnesota Cities' Research Library.
Chances are, your city’s codes aren’t as dusty and worn as the example pictured here…but maybe it’s still been a while since your ordinances have been given due attention.

From leash laws to zoning, codes really are the backbone of your municipality—forming the structure by which your city and your residents coexist. These ordinances help your citizens and businesses understand which regulations apply to them. In conjunction with state and federal laws, city codes help your community run smoothly.

Whether your local laws need a complete overhaul or just some minor updating, the League of Minnesota Cities has a program dedicated specifically for this purpose.

Our Codification Services will index your city’s codes into a format that is simple to both search and update. We partner with American Legal Publishing (ALP)—one of the nation’s largest producers of municipal codes—to provide this assistance. Attorneys in this program will review your city’s ordinances and make sure they are up to date and in compliance.

No matter how small or large your community, we have options for you:

  • The Livable City Code of Ordinances is best suited for Minnesota cities with populations below 500. The Livable City Code includes only the provisions that every small city needs and is intended to be adopted without change (versus the Minnesota Basic Code—more info below—which can be modified).

  • The Minnesota Basic Code (MBC) is generally designed for cities with populations below 2,000—but it may also may also be appropriate for larger cities that would like to have a comprehensive set of model ordinances. The MBC can be tailored to meet local needs, though extensive revisions are not recommended since much of the language has been tested in courts.

  • Customized codes allow you to create a code specifically for your municipality—or we can simply update your existing codes—whatever your city’s size. Periodic legal and editorial reviews ensure provisions are always current, lawful, and enforceable.

Whichever option your city chooses, the information will be supplied to your city in easy-to-use formats (a printed binder and CD-ROM are free, or you can host it online for an annual fee).

So if you’re ready to polish up your city’s code—or if you’ve just got questions about our Codification Services—please contact LMC Staff Attorney Amber Eisenschenk at (651) 281-1227,
(800) 925-1122, or

You can also find more information on this program at

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Spotted: Local Leaders (Broad)band Together

Need an example of small but mighty? Check out Minnesota Cities magazine to see how 10 small cities and 14 townships in southern Minnesota banded together to establish high-speed, fiber-based internet.

Seen here at the RS Fiber Cooperative office in Gaylord, Mayor Don Boeder of Gaylord, RS Fiber financial advisor Philip Keithahn, Mark Erickson of Winthrop, and Todd Schaefer of Hiawatha Broadband Communications are just a few of the stakeholders who have been a part of the long and sometimes discouraging process.

From figuring out the cooperative's financial structure to scheduling public meetings, committed local leaders and their partners made the difference in manifesting this powerful economic development infrastructure for residents and businesses.

Photo credit goes to Michael Braun

Friday, October 28, 2016

It's a Wrap! 2016 Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings

Thank you to everyone who attended the Regional Meetings we held across Minnesota this October! We wrapped up our annual gatherings this week with great conversations in Slayton, North Mankato, and Chatfield. Here are some scenes from these final locations:

The day in Slayton kicked off with a communications workshop
presented by LMC Assistant Communications Director Don Reeder.

League of Minnesota Cities President and Northfield
City Councilmember Rhonda Pownell addresses
city officials at the meeting in Slayton.

Attendees toured the new Taylor Corporation technology center and innovation lab to begin the day in North Mankato.

City officials at the North Mankato meeting held small-group discussions on
the most effective ways to handle challenging situations and difficult people.

Our final Greater Minnesota meeting was held at the beautiful Chatfield Center for the Arts.

Lake City Councilmember Andru Peters - pictured here at the Chatfield location - was
one of hundreds of city officials who participated in the 2016 Regional Meetings.

We're so pleased to have spent productive time with you all this fall! Metro city officials: you're up next. We'll see you in Brooklyn Center on Nov. 30:

Photo credit: LMC staff