Change The Future, Change The Date

On City Politics

BY MARY ANNE SERVIAN SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY NOV 3, 2018

As a former Mayor for the City of Sarasota, I’ve long since admired the pride residents take in their city. I believe that comes from the distinction in the city’s arts and culture, in its beaches and other natural amenities, in its character and its quality, and in its desirability and economic horsepower.

City residents not only have a sense of pride in their community, but also in how they engage with it. When I was a city commissioner, there was always such spirited involvement across both the city’s challenges and its opportunities. Because I think that’s true, it’s been difficult for me to watch as the community has failed to engage with one of its biggest challenges.

There’s simply no denying it – the city is challenged by its voter turnout. For a city that prides itself on awareness and engagement, and on distinction and refinement, it’s almost shocking that only around 20 percent of voters participate in city elections. I can’t see any pride in that, nor have I heard anyone claim that there is. I’ve not heard one argument that says only having 1-in-5 voters casting a ballot for city commissioners as being something that makes this community better.

Sarasota can talk about being world-class and award-winning across many areas, but voter participation is not one of them. It’s nice to be known for the Opera, the Ballet, the beaches, and baseball. It’s nice to read about being one of the best places to retire or one of the best small cities in America. Wouldn’t it be just as inspiring to be known as a community that leads the region in voter engagement? Isn’t that a headline worth creating?

Unfortunately, it seems like nobody has been trying to write that headline. Low turnout has been a chronic ailment for the city and yet change has not come. That was until recently. Because of a steadfast, bi-partisan group of stakeholders, city voters are being asked if they would like to move their elections from the spring of odd-numbered years to the fall of even-numbered years. City Commissioners would be elected during the general election, when irrefutable evidence shows that voter turnout doubles or triples. Voters finally have a chance to write a new headline for voter turnout in city elections.

Of course, having been a city commissioner, I can tell you that you can’t please everyone. There are those who object to moving the date, not because it demonstrably increases voter participation but because of speculation about unintended consequences. There seems to be fear that voters won’t be as informed, so let’s inform them. There seems to be fear that voters won’t get to the commission races on the ballot, so let’s get them there. Dust yourselves off Sarasota, there’s a new headline to write in this town. Change the Future Sarasota, Change the Date Sarasota. Vote YES on the City Charter Amendment.

Mary Anne Servian is a former mayor of Sarasota.

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