May the best (write-in) win

• Zimmerman seat will go to the top write-in candidate


by Debbie Griffin

Contributing Writer

An unusual election season will unfold in Zimmerman because, for the first time in at least 20 years, a write-in candidate stands to win a four-year term on the Zimmerman City Council.

There are three open seats — one up for a regular election and two individual special elections — and only two people running for them, leaving the door open to a willing, qualified citizen.

Zimmerman City Council
Zimmerman City Council

Neither the city administrator of 20 years, Randy Piasecki, nor clerk and treasurer of nine years, Kary Tillmann, remembers the need for a write-in election campaign. Piasecki said there are usually more candidates than open slots on the five-member governing body. State election records confirm that has been true for more than the past decade.

Zimmerman residents, which include 2,700 registered voters, will elect four officials on Election Day: three City Council members and the mayor. Normally, the city’s staggered election schedule puts two council members and the mayor up for election during even-numbered years.

Four council members are elected at-large and serve a four-year term, and the mayor serves a two-year term.


Road to unusual

The uncommon dynamics in Zimmerman began late last year when then Council Member Greg Laney resigned his term that expires at the end of 2014. He cited a decision to move out of the city.

Zimmerman solicited applications from interested persons. From among the applicants, the council appointed Beth Merwin to fill the remainder of Laney’s term because she had received the next-highest number of votes in the 2012 election.

She’s running for re-election to her seat on Nov. 4.

Early in 2014, then Council Member Gary Clough resigned his term that expires at the end of 2016. He cited reasons of disagreement with the status quo. Since Clough’s term had more than two years remaining, the city must hold a special election to fill his seat.

Looking at applications from the opening of Laney’s seat, the council voted 3-1 to appoint former multiple-term Council Member Karen Michels to the seat until after the election. Michels agreed to the commitment temporarily and said she would not be running for office.

As the candidate filing period closed in mid-August, the races became clear. Merwin will run unopposed to serve the remaining two years of the term Clough resigned and that Michels currently fills. Merwin said she opted to serve for two years because of a possible relocation in the future.

Councilmember Tony Brisbin’s term naturally expires at the end of 2014, and he will run unopposed for re-election to another four-year term.

That leaves open the four-year term that expires at the end of this year – originally held by Laney, then filled by Merwin.

Tillmann confirms that any willing, qualified write-in candidate could take that seat in November.

Should the election not name a winner, Tillmann said the city would have two options. It may appoint someone to serve in the seat until general elections in 2016 or amend the local law so it allows for a special election to be held sooner. The city ordinances now say any special election must be held during general election time in November.

Part of the reason why is to save money, Tillmann said. Holding a special election independently costs Zimmerman taxpayers more money than having them during regular election time when the expenses are shared among several entities. The clerk said November will also mark the first time in her tenure that Zimmerman has had to hold a special election.

Asking around the city about potential candidates who might campaign for the open seat, Tillmann said she’d fielded one call of interest from an undecided party. Piasecki and Michels said they are not aware of anyone preparing to campaign. Merwin wasn’t either and has heard some people hesitate over the long-term commitment.


Write-in rules

Nathan Bowe of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that typical election records and statistics don’t reveal how many times a write-in candidate has won a council seat or other office.

Bowe said write-in candidates for a statutory office – city or school board – are not required to file papers of intent or declaration. Write-in candidates for a federal, state or county office must file a request to have their write-in votes counted. The rules also say voters may not place a candidate sticker on the ballot but instead must write the name legibly for it to be counted.

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website lists qualifications for office, which say a candidate must:

–Be eligible to vote in Minnesota.

–Not have filed for any other office in the election.

–Be a least 21 years old.

–Have resided within the district for at least 30 days before election.

–If affiliated with a major party, attend its caucus.