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Tampa council may fiddle with mayoral election dates

Elections supervisor wants a longer runoff period to accommodate military and overseas voters in compliance with state law
The Tampa City Council, pictured here in its 2009 formation, has the authority to change an election date by passing an ordinance.  [Times]
The Tampa City Council, pictured here in its 2009 formation, has the authority to change an election date by passing an ordinance. [Times]
Published Mar. 16, 2018|Updated Mar. 16, 2018

Tampa's next election is under a year away—or is it?

Depending on what City Council members decide next month, the winner may not take office until May 2019. Or electioneering might be in full swing by Christmas.

One thing is very likely: the traditional Tampa three-week sprint between the first and final rounds of the election will be a more leisurely — and expensive — seven weeks.

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has asked the city to lengthen its runoff period between the first round of city elections and the final election from three to seven weeks.

That's to comply with an existing Florida state law that requires supervisor of election offices to send ballots 45 days before each election to overseas and military voters. Tampa has more than 1,100 overseas and military voters, said Gerri Kramer, Latimer's spokeswoman.

Salvatore Territo, Tampa's city attorney, informed council members at Thursday's meeting. They have scheduled a workshop to hear details from Latimer on April 26.

Although the city charter currently requires the mayor and council members to be sworn in on April 1, it could be changed by ordinance — not referendum — to May 1, Territo said.

The other option would be to shift the first round of the election to early February, which would also move up the qualifying period, Territo said.

That could be a logistical nightmare as much of the first round campaign would take place in December and January.

"I don't know how many people want to campaign during the holidays," Territo said.

Latimer has struggled to get ballots out to overseas and military voters in previous city elections under the current three-week system, but state lawmakers have had bills seeking to regulate local elections statewide in either November or March. The latest attempts failed in the just-ended session, which prompted Latimer's request, Kramer said.

She said Latimer had brought the issue up before with Tampa officials. Territo said he hadn't heard about any problems in all of his decades with the city.

City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen are widely expected to run for mayor. Council member Guido Maniscalco and Luis Viera are up for reelection. Council member Charlie Miranda says he'll seek another term.

Territo said that state law is clear: The City Council can change the dates of elections. He said he didn't think members have a conflict of interest.

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