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POLITICAL JOURNAL As primary draws near, a thought about raising the bar

Some argue that having more major parties indicates democracy is alive and well, while others argue that three- or four-way races result in winners without mandates, or a majority of the voters' support.

But for county auditors, whose business it is to administer elections, more major parties means a bigger headache and a greater expense.

"We as auditors, who have to administer the darn thing, thought it would be better to raise the bar," said Woody Vereide, Mower County's auditor.

The "bar" Vereide is referring to is 5 percent. By Minnesota law, that's all the support a candidate needs to get in a general election to propel his minor party to major-party status. The threshold in Minnesota is among the lowest of the 50 states.

Major-party status brings with it a number of privileges, including a space on the state primary ballot and eligibility for state matching funds for its endorsed candidates.

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The Independence Party got it in 1994 with Dean Barkley's U.S. Senate candidacy, and the Green Party got it in 2000 with Ralph Nader's showing in the presidential election, bringing the number of parties on Tuesday's primary ballot to four. This has some elections administrators concerned.

"Once you get to more than four major parties," Vereide said, "you almost have to have two ballots instead of one double-sided ballot. It starts getting really complicated."

"When you add parties, you increase the costs to the county and local units of government," said Lucy Botzek, counsel to the Minnesota Association of County Officers.

"Your printing costs go sky-high," said Dan Hall, Olmsted County's elections supervisor.

But don't think elections administrators are complaining about their jobs. Some, like Vereide, hold philosophical arguments along with other political analysts who believe Minnesota's "bar" should be raised.

"If you leave it at 5 percent it is quite possible that with a proliferation of parties," Vereide said, "you could end up like Europe where you have a multitude of tiny parties whose adherents really only show up at election time. Maybe (we need) something like 10 percent."

The county auditors association does not have an official position on Minnesota's major party status laws.

"That's a political question," said Dennis Distad, the association's legislative co-chairman. "The association is a nonpartisan group so we will let the parties in the state make that change themselves."

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A Ben Franklin per head, please

Al and Sharon Tuntland, longtime Rochester residents who have hosted many political fund-raisers, threw a private event in their home today for the Independence Party, with two of its endorsed candidates as the main attraction: gubernatorial hopeful Tim Penny and incumbent Sen. Sheila Kiscaden.

At $100 a head and more than 200 people expected to attend, the fund-raiser is on track to sweep $20,000 into the Independence Party's campaign coffers.

On Friday, Al Tuntland tried to play down the event, calling it "just citizens interested in supporting the candidacy of Sheila Kiscaden primarily and Tim Penny secondarily."

Tuntland has traditionally held fund-raisers only for statewide candidates, including Gov. Arne Carlson and Sen. Rod Grams, both Republicans.

Lenora Chu covers state government for the Post-Bulletin. Contact her via e-mail at lchu@postbulletin.com or phone at 507-285-7706.

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