Current Election Schedule Fails Sarasota's Electorate

On City Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY SEP 22, 2018

I read with disappointment the letter that appeared in Monday’s edition of SRQ Daily regarding the proposal to move City election dates.

As the Public Defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, my professional calling requires I avoid supposition, half-truths and fear mongering, which was the basis of the writer’s argument.

There is absolutely nothing that would support her argument that PAC money would flow into City races should such a change occur. We hear no issues of such problems in North Port or Venice when their city races are held in August and November of even-numbered years. In fact, nothing about the proposed change would do anything to affect campaign finance laws. What can be donated today can be donated under the more electorate-friendly proposal being put forward. There is simply zero substance to this argument.

A second argument proposed by the writer was that moving the date would diminish civic engagement. In the most recent primary election, held just last month, there were 11,641 ballots cast by city voters. In the 2017 spring, city elections, there were only 8,540 ballots cast by city voters. By my math, that means that the August election had a 36-percent increase in civic engagement. Perhaps the author and I have a different definition of what constitutes something being diminished. Perhaps we can await November turnout figures to see where engagement is truly occurring.

Finally, the author tags on the lazy argument that the proposal must be bad because of its supporters. She relies on pointing to the support of business, membership organizations to make the case. Conveniently omitted from the list of supporters were organizations like the NAACP, the International Union of Police Associations and both the ACLU of Sarasota and the ACLU of Florida. Similarly missing was mention of a number of well-respected community leaders who are supporting the cause, like former Mayor Suzanne Atwell who serves alongside me as co-chair.

Simply put, we seek to increase participation amongst the City’s electorate. On average, 8 out of 10 voters aren’t participating in city elections—it’s unbelievable! Our local democracy suffers when roughly 80 percent of voters either do not or cannot participate. Compare that with the more than 70 percent of city voters who participated in the most recent presidential election and you can see just how big of a problem we have. Moreover, a move to general election cycles would save taxpayers nearly $100,000 per election.

The system currently in place in the City of Sarasota is failing the electorate and the taxpayer. I’ve no idea why the author presents these baseless arguments as a fair tradeoff to continue supporting that system. Vote YES to Change the Date Sarasota. Make your voice heard to make your voice heard.

Larry Eger is Public Defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit and co-chair of Change the Date Sarasota.

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