Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Moving Elections May Have Downside | Analysts Warn City of Consequences If They Eliminate Runoffs

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Moving Elections May Have Downside | Analysts Warn City of Consequences If They Eliminate Runoffs

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

SARASOTA -- If the Sarasota City Commission wants to move municipal elections to the fall, it should continue to require a runoff if no candidate wins a majority during the initial election, political experts told city leaders Monday.

To elect a candidate who simply wins the most votes in a crowded race would open municipal elections to the rise of candidates like Donald Trump -- a largely unpopular frontrunner who has won primary election after primary election with only about one-third of the votes cast, said Keith Fitzgerald, a political science professor and former state representative.

That could become reality if the city's proposal to move elections to coincide with November state and federal general elections, which currently stipulates a "winner take all" single election, goes forward. The commission endorsed that plan in January and, at its meeting next week, will consider putting the proposal on a referendum in the fall.

"My biggest concern, and I'm not taking sides in this thing ... about the proposal you're considering is a single ballot, first- past-the-post election," Fitzgerald told city commissioners on Monday. "If you

think about what's going on with Donald Trump, it's illustrative of the problem."

"If you have five people running, you could have somebody win with 30 percent of the vote who's incredibly unpopular," he continued. "And there are fixes of that, including runoff voting."

That regularly happens in city races, often with six to nine candidates running for at-large seats, and a commissioner elected with only a fraction of the vote is not a "mandate" from voters, said Gretchen Serrie, former director of the Sarasota Orchestra and local campaign organizer.

Fitzgerald and Serrie were two of four experts to testify before the City Commission at a special evening workshop that split evenly on the pros and cons of moving the city's spring elections.

At the heart of the issue is whether the proposed move will increase voter turnout, which city leaders have frequently called "abysmal. …

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