Supporters say approval will bring more turnout to city elections.
Attention city of Sarasota voters! On this year’s ballot, you have been presented with an opportunity to advance an effort to boost voter participation in city elections by 200%. Over the past few decades, voter turnout in at-large municipal contests has averaged around 20%, with individual district races seeing ballots cast by fewer than 15% of registered voters. If over 80% of our neighbors aren’t showing up at the polls for a March primary and May run-off, it is time for a change in how we elect our city’s leaders.
Research has shown that the most influential factor that drives voter participation is the timing of elections. In 2012, a series of amendments to the city’s charter appeared towards the end of the ballot. Of the 70% of city voters who made a selection for president of the United States, 80% made their voices heard on the city charter amendments. If 56% of the city’s electorate felt compelled to vote on arcane and faceless charter questions, then we know that a spirited campaign between two citizens for a seat at the commission table will attract Sarasota voters in even greater numbers.
For guidance on our grassroots effort to bring more voices to the ballot box, we look to the past.
Sarasota hasn’t always held its elections in the spring of odd-numbered years. Fifty years ago, city leaders acknowledged the low turnout problem plaguing city elections. Policymakers openly questioned the system by which they were elected. Prior to the home rule era, which localized governmental authority, municipalities had to seek state approval before moving elections. This 1967 calendrical change was submitted to the state as part of the City’s annual legislative package. Given current voter participation levels, we must question whether the goal of drawing more voters to the polls was achieved.
Today, the effort to “Change the Date” of our city elections is broad-based, bipartisan and draws its energy from the over 4,700 city residents who submitted a petition to place the question before you—the voters of the city of Sarasota. Amidst the contentious and tiring partisan battles consuming our country, it has been refreshing to work on a local, forward-looking initiative supported by prominent Democrats, Republicans, neighborhood leaders from Lido Key, Laurel Park, Newtown, the ACLU, NAACP, the Sarasota-Manatee Young Democrats and the Manasota Democratic Black Caucus. On Nov. 6, we invite you to join this effort to boost voter participation in our city by 200%, bring more voices to the Commission table and help close the book on the not-so-radical idea that more voters casting ballots is better for democracy. Please vote “YES” in support of “Change the Date”!
Gabriel Hament is a native of Sarasota