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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2015 6 years ago

Youth vote lukewarm in city election — as usual

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by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

The Sarasota City Commission and Longboat Key Town Commission elections failed to bring out more than 6% of registered voters under 55 years old.

Caption: The voter turnout in the latest Sarasota City Commission election eclipsed 21% for the first time in at least six years, but young and non-white voters were underrepresented.

The two youngest candidates for Sarasota City Commission were both trounced in the March 10 election by at least 18 percentage points, and failed to qualify for a May 12 run-off.

A lackluster turnout at a Sarasota Young Professionals Group-sponsored City Commission candidate debate at Ringling College of Art and Design a week before the election foreshadowed what would be another weak turnout for young voters in municipal elections.

"The turnout was minuscule,” said Sarasota YPG Chairman Chris Laney. "It’s disappointing that we have an opportunity to have a big say in our city's politics, yet no one cares to show up to vote."

The city of Sarasota and town of Longboat Key elections failed to bring out more than 7% of registered voters under the age of 55. A whopping 84 voters under the age of 30 exercised their democratic right last week — that’s less than 3% of registered voters in that demographic.

"It’s depressing,”Laney said.

David Morgan, who ran for the District 2 seat on the City Commission, and District 3 candidate Matt Wooddall both advocated for moving city elections to the fall to draw more voters. Incumbents Eileen Normile and Stan Zimmerman, and District 2 challenger Liz Alpert have voiced support for maintaining March elections.

“Obviously the election cycle being in March is a challenge,” Laney said.

Throughout their campaigns, Morgan and Wooddall marketed themselves as voices of change that would advocate for younger residents.

But, the percentage of young voters was identical to the numbers recorded in the 2013 municipal elections. Thirty-nine percent of voters over 65 years old voted this year, which actually grew from 33% in 2013.

“I just didn't think there was enough marketing,” said Laney, who had considered running for the District 3 seat.

Looking specifically at the data from the City Commission election, non-white voters were also underrepresented in the election, with a 14% turnout in District 2 and less than 7% of registered voters participating in District 3. Twenty-seven percent of registered white voters participated in District 2, while 18% of white District 3 voters participated.

Normile will face Alpert, and Zimmerman will face District 3 challenger Shelli Freehand Eddie in the coming run-off election, which will likely become a partisan slugfest.

Laney said he’s weighing a commission run in 2019.

“I think there’s a really good chance that we would win, but it would take some really out-of-the-box marketing,” Laney said.

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