City moves ahead with planned referendum on election schedule changes
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:48 p.m.
A City Commission plan to put proposed changes to the city election schedule before the voters in March moved ahead Thursday.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners advanced a proposal to move elections from the spring of every year to the fall of odd years and to extend terms from three years to four years. Elections would remain nonpartisan and term limits would stay.
Thursday’s vote, however, did not send the issue to the voters. Instead, city commissioners will need two votes on a proposed ordinance detailing the changes before a referendum on a charter amendment makes the ballot . As it stands now, the plan is to schedule the referendum on the March 19 city election day.
But that’s not set in stone.
“At some point, we can decide this is moving too quickly and put it off,” Mayor Craig Lowe said.
At committee and commission meetings and a September town hall session, commissioners have discussed potential changes intermittently over the past several months. They originally eyed moving city elections to coincide with state, federal and county elections to boost voter turnout and cut costs. But that raised concerns at the September town hall session that city races and candidates would struggle for attention with voters and on the bottom of the ballot.
Under that scenario, there was also the prospect of a schedule where the city’s regular election falls on a primary date for county, state and federal races, with the runoff on general election day. With primary turnout often in the low 20 percent area, the boost over the turnout for city elections, which typically hovers in the teens, was not as substantial as sought.
Thursday, Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said the “compelling reason” for considering change in the first place was the attempt to increase turnout. He questioned if that would happen under the proposed schedule now mulled -- a regular election in October of odd years with a runoff in November.
Commissioner Lauren Poe tried to make a case that it would. He felt there would be more competitive races, and therefore more voter interest, because elections would now have either three seats or a commission majority of four seats on the ballot. Moving to the fall also would avoid conflicts with spring break.
“Do I think that will get us to 40?” Poe said of turnout. “No. But I think it should get us above 20. People just typically think about fall as election season.”
The cost savings would come from moving away from annual elections to a schedule of every other year.
The complicated process of transitioning from three-year terms to four-year terms would still need to be ironed out. One option floated was moving up the elections for Todd Chase’s District II, Susan Bottcher’s District III and the At-Large seat of Thomas Hawkins from March 2014 to the fall of 2013. Under that scenario, their terms would still expire in May 2014.