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Referendum on city election date makes ballot

A push to move city elections from March and May to August and November has gained enough support to send the question to voters this fall.

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  • | 1:38 p.m. May 18, 2018
The City Commission will officially set the referendum date and ballot language in the next few months.
The City Commission will officially set the referendum date and ballot language in the next few months.
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Backed by the support of more than 4,700 residents, a referendum on moving city elections is set to appear on the ballot in November.

The Decide the Date campaign announced today it has collected enough signatures for the referendum to move ahead. Decide the Date, which launched in December, formed in an effort to move municipal elections from March and May of odd-numbered years to August and November of even-numbered years.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner confirmed his office had certified 4,732 signatures and transmitted that information to the city auditor and clerk. The referendum needed the support of 10% of the registered voters in the city, or 3,736 valid signatures, to make the ballot.

Decide the Date has argued moving the election to coincide with the state and national election cycles will produce an increase in voter turnout. On average, city voter turnout in November elections has greatly exceeded turnout in March and May elections. Turnout in August elections has been significantly closer to the levels in the spring.

“City elections currently take place in March and May of odd-numbered years when no other elections are held,” said Suzanne Atwell, Decide the Date co-chairwoman and a former mayor, in a release. “A great majority of Sarasota residents don’t know when to vote.”

Opponents of the proposal have argued it could result in decreased attention for city elections. They've also said holding the first elections in August, when fewer part-time residents are in town, could pose a challenge.

The City Commission, which also has the authority to place a referendum on the ballot, has previously declined to move ahead with a question on moving election day.

After the city auditor and clerk receives confirmation of the petition results, the subject will be placed on a City Commission agenda. The board is then given 60 days to adopt an ordinance setting the date of the referendum, the language on the ballot and the date the new rules would take effect, if adopted.

If the referendum passes, the city attorney’s office said there are questions about how the city would transition to a new election cycle. Because there would be an 18-month gap between the spring 2019 election and the fall 2020 elections, the commission would have to decide whether to lengthen or shorten the terms of some members.

For now, the Decide the Date campaign is excited to have voters weigh in on the optimal time to hold city elections.

“Having surpassed the required number of signatures by such a large margin in so little time speaks to the popularity of giving Sarasota voters a choice as to when they want to hold their elections,” Decide the Date co-chairman Larry Eger said in the release. “We look forward to voters deciding this issue this November.”


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