SEMINOLE — In two weeks, voters here will go to the polls to choose two council members, but the city's March elections could become a thing of the past.
Seminole council members have asked the newly formed charter review committee to consider recommending that municipal elections be held in November. The goal would be twofold: increase turnout and decrease costs.
Charter review members tabled the idea last week, but only long enough to give city staff members time to collect data comparing March and November elections.
Seminole has $20,000 set aside for the March 10 election, but it's unclear how much of that might be spent, said Mark Ely, the city's development director.
But Nancy Whitlock, spokeswoman for Pinellas County Elections Commissioner Deborah Clark, says cities can save a lot of money by piggybacking onto countywide elections. When a city hires Clark to run a race, there is a fee of 40 cents per registered voter (Seminole has about 13,500 voters, so the fee would be more than $5,000), plus the cost of mail ballot kits, fees for polling places and salaries for poll workers. If, however, there's already a countywide race, none of those charges are passed on to the city.
"We have to do the election anyway, so we don't charge for that," Whitlock said. "So they do save quite a bit."
As for turnout, 72.5 percent of voters across Pinellas turned out in November, but it was a presidential election year. In 2006, with federal candidates on the ballot, but no presidential race, the turnout was smaller — 47.7 percent countywide. The results were similar in the city of Seminole: 72.5 percent turned out during November's presidential election, but only 51.8 percent turned out to vote in November 2006.
Still, that's much better than the 9 percent turnout in the March 2008 Seminole municipal election or the 19.7 percent turnout in March 2007.
Ely said Largo recently moved its elections to November and has seen a pretty good turnout since then. In November, for example, 61 percent of the voters cast ballots in the one municipal race.
But those who question such a move wonder about municipal issues and candidates getting lost in the uproar of presidential and races for higher office, which garner more media and voter attention. Holding municipal elections at a special time of year, they say, means the attention is solely on the municipal candidates and issues.
But proponents of the move point out that voters in November are more likely both to pay attention to the fact that there is an election and to be able to take the time to vote. And more voter participation, they say, is a good thing.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.