How to Open the Door to Dialogue
An anecdote from Anoka County
In Fall 2022 I joined three Anoka County residents at the Anoka County Government Center ahead of that day’s County Commissioner Board Meeting. As there was no public comment during the meeting, these residents had made a routine of showing up to share information they’d learned related to elections. In the months that followed, this election integrity group grew as it attracted more people with a variety of skill sets, all eager for transparency and accountability.
Once again in mid December I sat in a meeting specifically focused on elections with the auditor, county and deputy county attorneys, and commissioners present, organized to provide a bit of dialogue between the county and the people.
Now, in January 2023, it was recently announced that Anoka County would have a 10-minute public comment section, with 2 minutes per speaker, at the end of every County Commissioner Board Meeting beginning January 24, where topics not included on the meeting’s agenda may be discussed.
This is in addition to the PRT subcommittee where the public is invited to speak for 10 minutes. (The Property Records & Taxation Committee oversees the Elections Department.)
In sum, that’s 30 minutes per month for the people of Anoka County to engage with their elected officials and to share what they are finding by analyzing public election data and investigating leads from that data, including (but not limited to) phantom voters who had moved outside of Anoka prior to the November 8, 2022 midterms but mysteriously voted in that same election.
Having spoken or participated in dozens of public county meetings, I believe this is a good sign and certainly part of an encouraging trend to ensure that not only does public information get broadcast to the public but also that the people can share what they are learning with those responsible in local government for making decisions on their behalf.
It’s in the common interest for public information to be disclosed, broadcast, disseminated, and easily discoverable. That includes but is certainly not limited to election data. Access to raw unedited source data is valuable because it is by definition not altered or filtered by a second layer of—for example—analysts or commentators.
Why did Anoka County opt to make time for public comment?
It just so happens that I think the people in Anoka who sought the public release of more election data developed enough rapport and credibility with their local government to make way for Chairman Look’s proposal which was accepted by the Board.
Developing a relationship with their local representatives was a multiple month journey for the group and I am confident there is more great work coming as momentum builds with each patient, diligent step.
Hopefully this will take place elsewhere. For instance, Sherburne County has also revised its open forum policies, likely in response to a resident being physically removed from a meeting, in my opinion in violation of the 1st Amendment.