City will ponder election reforms
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:32 p.m.
The Gainesville City Commission decided Thursday to take another look at the structure of city elections, particularly the often-discussed proposal to move Election Day to the fall along with county, state and national contests.
Commissioners indicated they will also be pushing other changes, like making the races partisan or doing away with the elected-mayor system.
The commission voted 6-0, with Mayor Craig Lowe absent, on Thursday afternoon to have its Audit, Finance and Legislative Committee re-examine election dates and other issues, even though the committee, made up of Lowe and Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, had already been discussing the election date issue as recently as the fall.
Commissioner Susan Bottcher broached the subject during Thursday’s meeting, saying she had heard from many constituents that they would rather vote on city races in the fall along with every other major office.
Bottcher said she had extensive conversations with City Manager Russ Blackburn on how it could be accomplished, either through a charter-review committee or a vote to place the matter directly on the ballot.
“At this time, it’s appropriate for us to embrace the idea of exploring this further,” she said.
Her colleagues agreed.
Randy Wells said having spring elections costs the city more than it would in the fall, when the Alachua County elections supervisor is already printing ballots and reserving precincts. “I think there are better things we could spend our money on,” Wells said.
Bottcher said she wanted the change because turnout is typically poor in city races, theorizing that part of the reason for this is because people don’t like having to cast a ballot every six months.
“I think it is a fair observation that people suffer from what I call voter fatigue,” she said after the meeting.
Hawkins said he doesn’t see there being any sort of hindrance to voting.
“It’s really easy to vote in any time of the year,” he said during the meeting. “Difficulty of participation, that’s just not a problem that we suffer from.”
Bottcher said she would like to pursue the possibility of making elections partisan and requiring candidates to collect signatures before they are placed on the ballot.
Currently, city elections are nonpartisan, and candidates are only required to make a payment of 1 percent of the commissioner salary. If they can’t afford that, they can file an affidavit declaring an “undue burden.”
Todd Chase suggested getting rid of the mayor’s office and returning to a system of five commissioners with a rotating mayor who leads meetings, noting that eight former commissioners — whom he wouldn’t name — agreed.
The mayor, he said, “clearly holds a lot of power.”
In an interview, Chase said the mayor gets to control the agenda and the meeting. Chase said he does not believe that a single commissioner should wield that power over his or her entire tenure.
“Under the current structure, clearly the mayor’s position holds a lot of power and influence,” he said.
As for eliminating two spots on the commission, Chase said, “It’s easier to get to three votes than four.”
“I think it would help us deal with more issues from the middle and build consensus there,” he said.
During the meeting, some commissioners said they wanted to keep an elected mayor.
“People come to the mayor because they are the mayor,” Wells said, noting how many times Lowe was interviewed about the Dove World Outreach Center’s planned Quran burning in September 2010. “That’s a responsibility, a duty, a stress for the mayor that I don’t share as just another commissioner. It doesn’t mean his vote is any more than mine.”