Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Don't Force Cities to Alter Elections | Legislation Would Interfere with 'Home Rule'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Don't Force Cities to Alter Elections | Legislation Would Interfere with 'Home Rule'

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

Municipal election dates vary wildly in Florida, from winter to fall. This city-by-city inconsistency could be one reason why most voters don't cast ballots in these elections, according to Florida House member Matt Caldwell. Turnout tends to be particularly low for spring elections.

Caldwell, a Lee County Republican, wants to improve the situation. He is sponsoring a bill (PCB SAC 16-04) that would bring some uniformity to the local systems. It would require that all cities' commission or council elections either coincide with the date of the broader general elections (in early November) or be held on an alternate date unanimously agreed to by all municipalities within a county. (Early November elections in even- and odd- numbered years would be allowed, under Caldwell's bill.)

Caldwell has suggested the change could increase turnout and help people know when to vote. Today, he contends, the average citizen "has no idea" about municipal election dates.

Caldwell's intentions may be good, but his bill holds troubling implications for "home rule" authority. Such changes should be locally initiated rather than imposed on cities from above.

Furthermore, the promised uniformity -- though appealing in theory -- isn't likely to live up to the hype, due to cities' varying policies on runoffs and length of terms. Among Sarasota County's four cities, for example, some don't sync up with even- numbered-year general elections, because their commissioners serve three-year terms.

Another negative: Under Caldwell's proposal, cities that use a runoff system would hold their initial election in August -- coinciding with partisan primaries -- even though the city seats are nonpartisan. In communities where one party dominates the primaries, independent voters and members of the other party may be less inclined to participate. …

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