NAACP Joins Push to Shift Election Date

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY JAN 9, 2018

A push to change the timing of Sarasota’s city elections got a lift Monday with an endorsement from the NAACP. But while leaders of that group see a shift to November elections as a way to boost minority turnout, critics of the measure remain skeptical that city issues would get more attention at the bottom of the ballot than they do now.

Trevor Harvey, president of the Sarasota County branch of the NAACP, released a statement Monday backing the Decide The Date campaign, which wants Sarasota’s city elections held in sync with state and national elections, meaning in the fall of even-numbered years. “Not only does this save taxpayers money, it also increases the overall participation in the African-American community by 86 percent,” says Harvey

Critics, though, say that turning out a higher percentage of voters who want to weigh in on president, governor and other high-profile offices won’t necessarily mean a higher turnout for city contests and issues. “The people that vote within the city are the ones who are going to vote anyway,” says City Commissioner Willie Shaw, who represents a minority-rich district in north Sarasota.

In May this year, 22.75 percent of city voters came out for a city commission runoff, but just 7.97 percent of black voters turned out. Earlier this year in March, 10.55 percent of black voters came out in a city race that drew 19.2 percent of voters citywide. That contrasts sharply with elections in November 2016, when 76.8 percent of voters in Sarasota County came out, including 63.86 percent of black voters.

Of course, that was when the presidential election topped the ballot. In August 2016, only 25.76 percent of Sarasota County voters came out for a state and county primary election, and 15.44 percent of black voters turned out. Those numbers are only slightly higher than the city elections the following spring. And critics of the Decide The Date petition note the measure calls if there are more than two candidates for an initial election concurrent with state primaries, then to hold a runoff in November if necessary.

Former Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell, a co-chair for the Decide The Date, said the fine details of the debate can wait until after the petition drive, which should just be about whether voters this November should have the choice to move the election. But she said the potential boost in turnout drew her to the cause; she noted she twice supported putting similar measures on the ballot when she sat on the city commission. “This is good governance,” Atwell says. “It gives the opportunity for the highest possible percentage of the voting public to participate.”

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