City Elections Stay Put



City elections in Sarasota will stay at the same time on the calendar, at least for now. City Commissioners Monday night declined the chance to put to vote the rescheduling of city contests to coincide with state and federal elections, leaving in place the practice of voting on city matters in spring of odd-numbered years. “I do not want to give the voters the choice of a flawed process,” said City Commissioner Liz Alpert. “It is not like there is a crisis situation or that we have to do this in November.”

Amid concerns about low turnout in Spring elections, commissioners in January voted to pursue a referendum allowing voters to weigh in on moving elections to Fall in even-numbered years and to most likely eliminate a runoff election altogether. But Monday night, Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell made a motion to move forward with this plan and the issued died for lack of a second. 

That doesn’t mean the issue dies entirely, but it makes the timing challenging to put the issue in front of voters on Nov. 8, when turnout is expected to be high for the presidential election.

The issue already on Monday stoked significant debate. Former Mayor Kelly Kirschner criticized the elimination of the runoff, noting two sitting commissioners—Atwell and Shelli Freeland Eddie—would have lost their first elections to office in a first race if a runoff had never occurred in 2009 and 2015 respectively. And former Mayor Mollie Cardamone said there are other ways to boost voter turnout like Saturday elections and same-day voter registration.

But other political figures spoke in favor of the change. Former City Commission candidate Matt Wooddall said the commission had a fiduciary responsibility to consider rescheduling elections, noting every election held in March or May costs about $60,000, but a Fall election in conjunction with other races would cost just $12,000. Former candidate Diana Hamilton noted the last time a city issue appeared on a November ballot, 76 percent of people who voted in the city that day voted on the matter, rejecting a special interest-supported change in city structure. She felt this showed that voters will turn out in November and won’t be swayed by special interests. 

Former Mayor Dick Clapp, who spoke in opposition Monday to the referendum out of fears of special interests altering the city dialogue, said the commission should at the very least allow a charter review committee to explore technical issues before the matter gets sent to voters. Alpert said she would like to take that approach now and would like to see a board appointed to study this topic.

Woodall, though, said the vast majority of citizens already favor the change in election schedule already. He wants citizens to file petitions with City Hall and force the issue onto the November ballot through a citizen-led effort.

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