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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 6 months ago

City voters should decide when city elections are held

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Off-year voting dilutes minority and young voter influence.
by: Larry Eger | Chair of Decide the Date Sarasota

Decide the Date Sarasota is a petition initiative to place the question of when to have city elections on the ballot. I am chairing this initiative because I believe that more people who vote, the more representative government you will get. 

This is a single issue that has never been put forward to the electorate. It is significant in terms of outcomes and cost, and the electorate deserves the opportunity to weigh in.

I believe that the low voter turnout produced by off-cycle elections is simply unacceptable and fundamentally flawed.     

In the city of Sarasota, elections held in the spring of odd-numbered years draw far fewer voters than elections held in the fall of even-numbered years. In the most recent City Commission election, which took place in May, nearly 23% of registered city voters cast a ballot. In the most recent general election, which took place in November 2016, nearly 72% of registered city voters cast a ballot. There were over 18,000 more ballots cast by city voters during the general election in the fall.

What was especially important is who made up the pool of voters that actually voted. During the spring election, 4% of the ballots cast were by African-American voters. During the fall election, just six months prior, nearly 10% of the ballots cast were by African-American voters.  

During the spring election, just less than 2% of the ballots cast were by Hispanic voters. During the fall election, just over 5.5% of the ballots cast were by Hispanic voters.

This phenomenon was not an aberration — these cases represent a trend. The previous two blocks of elections cycles (2015/2014 and 2013/2012) yield similar results. A simple shift in election timing creates a significant dilution of the vote for these populations. That’s right, a dilution of minority influence on elections.

These statistics are significant, troubling and intolerable. Any self-serving arguments about campaigning in the heat or being able to raise campaign money are dwarfed by the real issue of dilution of minority influence in an election.

But this issue goes beyond minorities, it also affects age as well. Interestingly, in the most recent cycle, voters under the age of 30 were likewise affected as were minorities. During the spring election, less than 4% of the ballots cast were by voters under 30. During the fall election, almost 11% of the ballots cast were by voters under 30.  

More people vote, the voice of minorities in elections are strengthened, and the voice of our future in elections are increased in fall elections. These outcomes are historically proven, important and should be contemplated by our city electorate.

To put the question to the electorate, we have 180 days to collect petition signatures, 3,737 in total. To help us put the question of when to hold the city election on the ballot, please go to DecideTheDate.com for more information and to download a petition. Let’s let voters decide the date of the city election.  

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