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Change the Date Sarasota
For Immediate Release:
A Move to Reform Municipal Elections in Florida is Underway
Sarasota, Gainesville, FL (Oct. 12, 2018) – In an effort to increase voter turnout, cities across Florida are reforming their elections. The 2018 general election will give voters in Gainesville and in Sarasota the opportunity to align municipal elections with the regular, biennial federal, state, and county elections already happening in those communities.
Election reform efforts are the result of non-partisan activism supporting voter access to polls. In Gainesville and in Sarasota—as is typical of stand-alone elections—city elections which do not coincide with the federal, state, and county election cycles have a low turnout. In Sarasota, city elections only draw from 15 to 23 percent of registered voters. In Gainesville, city elections typically see about 15 percent turnout, but that participation is even lower in some years. In both communities, 50 to 70 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the general election cycle.
Combining the elections boosts voter turnout for local elections. Florida cities that have already reformed municipal elections have seen voter turnout improve. For the city of Bradenton, turnout in 2009 was 14 percent. After the elections were moved in 2010, turnout increased to 71 percent in 2012, 53 percent in 2014, and 66 percent in 2016. Tallahassee changed its city election date and has had similar improvement and 76.5 percent of city voters cast ballots in its 2012 city-wide election.
Another benefit of aligning municipal elections with the general election date is that turnout often doubles or triples among minority demographics. In the November 2016 general election, 9.7 percent of voters were African American, 5.55 percent were Hispanic, and 10.86 were under the age of 29. In the following May 2017 city of Sarasota election, however, that participation fell dramatically. In that race, 3.99 percent of voters were African American, 1.98 percent were Hispanic, and 3.79 were under the age of 29.
Susan Nilon, president of the Sarasota chapter and board member of the ACLU-FL, said “It’s these statistics that caught our attention. Increasing voter turnout is essential to our democracy. We must tear down the barriers that frustrate the voter. That is why we stand with the NAACP in supporting this change.”
Thomas Hawkins, former Gainesville City Commissioner and advocate for improving elections in that city, said “Moving Gainesville’s elections to the fall is a smart way to save money while increasing turnout in local elections. Too often, voters focus on only those races on presidential election ballots. Other elections don’t receive the attention they deserve. By aligning city races with the elections in which people vote, we will obligate politicians to be responsive to a greater segment of the population. This is the right move for Gainesville and part of a movement toward more democratic processes statewide.”
For years, taxpayers have funded elections that provide less turnout for more money. The City of Sarasota spends about $100,000 in election expenses to administer a separate election. Over the last decade, over a half million dollars have been spent to administer City elections.
If these amendments are a success with the voters, more and more municipalities around Florida will find support in their efforts to make it easier for everyone to vote.
Change the Date Sarasota is a local group of volunteers, business owners, and organizations formed to address the expensive and low voter turnout in the spring special elections within the City of Sarasota.
Gainesville Votes is a grassroots movement in Gainesville, Florida to improve voter participation in Gainesville city elections.