Notes on Local Elections

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The Florida Times-Union reports that Jerry Holland, a former City Council President who succeeded the late John Stafford as Supervisor of Elections, has drafted a bill that would “consolidate” state and local elections, beginning with the round currently slated for spring 2011, which would be rolled forward about six months to coincide with the national “mid-term” elections set for November 2010. This writer has opposed such a proposition on those occasions when it has come under discussion in previous years, but is now considerably more sympathetic, with caveats.

There are two strong points to be made in favor of this idea, which did not originate with Holland but is basically now his issue. The first point, made cogently in Tia Mitchell’s July 19 T-U article, deals with the potential savings of having one ballot process, instead of two; this could save up to $3 million dollars in the FY 2011 budget. The other is that, in the short-term, merging the two will increase voter turnout for the pivotal local elections ahead. Any gimmick that gets more people out for one of the most important decisions local voters have ever been asked to make.

Local policymakers are in dispute on the issue, as they have been on almost everything, including the FY 2010 budget, which is currently being negotiated. Councilman Dan Davis was mentioned in the article as considering putting Holland’s bill into play, and the savings argument alone gives it plenty traction. Lost amidst all this, however, is the fact that each of the 19 City Council  members are potential mayoral candidates in 2011 (or, 2010). Those who plan to make that jump will have to make that decision by next summer, if they want enough time to distinguish themselves within what should be a very crowded field. If the elections are moved up to November 2010, then the window for any declaration moves up, as well.

In other years, this might not be such a big deal, but the city is fighting an existential struggle of sorts right now, and every vote taken by the council on the budget and related matters directly impacts the backdrop of the next election, as well as the situation the next mayor will face. With that being said, it may be in the city’s best interests—as well as the best interests of whomever becomes our next mayor—if any councilpersons planning to run for mayor were to say so now, so as to avoid any potential conflicts-of-interest. (As a journalist, I’ll go on record now as saying that I am considering it myself, and that I am more likely to do so under emergency conditions. Full disclosure.)

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