Counting Votes Illustrates That Votes Count

Guest Correspondence

BY KEVIN COOPER SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 25, 2015

Depending on whom one asks, the reasons why someone chooses to vote or not can vary greatly. In a 2008 United States Census Bureau report, the top reason registered voters gave for not voting was because they were “too busy.” Arguments in support of voting range from it being one’s civic duty to it actually validating one’s opinion (i.e., “you can’t complain unless you vote”). An oftentimes more challenging argument in support of voting is that one’s vote actually matters. That’s particularly true in the case of elections in the City of Sarasota.

To illustrate, one need look no further than the current City Commission and this year’s city elections. In 2009, Commissioner Suzanne Atwell was elected by a margin of 104 votes.  What’s particularly interesting about that isn’t that the race was close, but rather that the margin of victory literally equated to three-tenths of a percent of the overall registered voter count in an election that saw only 15.67 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Mayor Willie Shaw was elected in 2011 by a margin of 236 votes, which represented 2.8 percent of the eligible registered voter count in an election that saw only 14.81 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot.

Commissioner Susan Chapman was elected in 2013 by a margin of 447 votes, which represented 1.3 percent of the overall registered voter count in an election that saw a relatively strong 19.97 percent voter turnout. 

It’s important to note that Atwell and Chapman serve as at-large commissioners and thus competed for the votes of the entire City, as opposed to Shaw who represents District 1 and therefore only competed for the votes of that district.  Also of note is that Atwell and Chapman have been involved in races that saw voters have the option to select two out of three candidates. However, of the current City Commissioners who have been elected, the total margin of victory for their first elections was a combined total of 787 votes. 

Both Commissioners Normile and Zimmerman were appointed to the City Commission in November of 2014 when then-City Commissioners Caragiulo and Snyder stepped down to run for County Commission. Both Commissioners face a runoff election on May 12.  While the turnout for the 2015 General Election was higher than the aforementioned elections at 21.87 percent, Zimmerman, for example, may not even be participating in a runoff had 131 more voters from District 3 come out in support. To further illustrate the point, 131 is only 1.3 percent of the overall registered voter count in District 3.

Getting out the vote is no small task and the responsibility for such a task hardly lies solely with the candidates and/or elected officials. Moreover, there’s nothing to say that higher voter turnouts would have changed the composition of the Commission as we know it. However, the numbers do indicate the idea a vote doesn’t matter is perhaps nowhere more unfounded than in the City of Sarasota.

Early voting for the City of Sarasota runoff election begins on May 4 and extends through May 9.  Registered voters can cast a ballot between the hours of 8:30am and 4:30pm at the Supervisor of Elections office.  Polls will be open on 7am  on Tuesday, May 12th, and will remain so until 7 PM.  For more information on the election, visit www.sarasotavotes.com.    

SRQ Daily Columnist Kevin Cooper is the vice president for Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

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