Nearly $130,000 in the city’s budget has been allocated to pay for its annual spring election. It’s money that could be saved if the election is moved to the November general election, and that’s just what a group of citizens is advocating.
Restaurateur Paul Caragiulo has organized a group of voters advocating a change in the city-election system. He said the money is a secondary concern.
“We have high turnout for the general election, yet a very modest amount who vote in the spring,” he said.
Caragiulo asked the city’s Charter Review Committee Aug. 10 to consider the change. He brought 27 supporters with him, including former Mayors Mary Anne Servian and Kerry Kirschner.
“In my second election, I had the distinction of being in an election with a 10% voter turnout,” said Kirschner. “I was elected by a handful of people.”
Voter turnout in the November 2008 election, which included the presidential race, was 75% in Sarasota. The city election four months later only garnered a 20% turnout.
The city deliberately holds its elections in the spring to separate it from county, state and national elections, because City Hall believes its issues could get lost in the races that traditionally receive more attention.
“We’re low on the totem pole in November,” said City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadelini.
Because the city holds its own election, it has to pay for its own election. The cost will be $129,000 for the initial election and a runoff if necessary.
If the city’s races were decided in November, the county would pick up most of that cost.
Kate Lowman, president of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, supports the current election format.
She said if the elections are combined, the pool of election volunteers will be thinned and the city races could be ignored. She fears the people who do vote won’t be fully versed on the city’s election races.
“Although I’d like to see more voters, I’d like to see them knowledgeable about city issues,” she said.
Resident Diana Harrington understands the concern about the city election being overshadowed, but believes the heightened interest in voting during November will only benefit the city.
“It would be a much more democratic process,” she said.
Gretchen Serrie, Charter Review Committee chairwoman, said the 25 citizens who spoke about this and other topics are the most she’s ever seen testify at a committee meeting.
“It broke the record for public input,” she said. “The next highest was 17.”
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