In the Nov. 8 election, St. Petersburg voters get to weigh in on four ballot measures — two referendums and two charter amendments. One of them would change the timing of the city’s municipal elections, which is the focus of this recommendation. To read the Times recommendation on the other three city ballot questions, click here.
Charter amendment 1: Rescheduling municipal elections — Yes
This isn’t an easy call. The arguments for maintaining the status quo or for rescheduling the elections to coincide with state and federal elections both have merit.
The city charter acts as a kind of municipal constitution. St. Petersburg’s charter requires elections for mayor and the City Council to be in odd-numbered years. That sets them apart from state and federal elections, which are in even-numbered years. If passed, this amendment would move elections for mayor and half of the City Council’s eight districts to federal midterm years, and the other half of the districts to presidential election years. The change would require extending the terms of the current mayor and City Council members by a year.
The main upsides of changing the schedule:
— A lot more people will vote in the municipal elections. The turnout could easily be two to three times as large.
— More people will be able to vote early at a reduced cost to the city. They city found that expanding early voting options in the current system was cost-prohibitive.
— The city would save money overall, not just on early voting. The city clerk estimated it would cost the city almost $1.4 million to hold elections in 2023, with optional early voting added. To hold the election in 2024 in conjunction with state and federal elections, the clerk estimated the cost at just $34,948, also including early voting options. That’s a difference of more than $1.3 million
— More voters doesn’t necessarily mean more informed voters. The municipal elections would be near the end of a long ballot. It could be harder for voters to get up to speed on so many candidates.
— Municipal candidates would have to spend a lot more to get their message heard through the noise of all the other races. That could eliminate quality local candidates who don’t have the resources to raise lots of money.
— Municipal elections are nonpartisan — the mayor and council candidates do not run as a member of a political party. Putting them on a ballot with a roster of partisan elections could inject unneeded partisanship into the races.
The downside arguments, though, aren’t as persuasive. Making voting easier, by consolidating the elections into even years, is a boon for democracy. Yes, municipal candidates would have to work harder to get noticed, but that’s not a bad thing from the voters’ standpoint. Candidates should have to work hard — which could mean knocking on more doors and doing more candidate forums, instead of relying heavily on TV ads — to win over voters.
The cost savings and increased voter turnout are attractive, too. For those reasons, this editorial board supports changing the municipal election schedule. On charter amendment 1, the Times recommends voting Yes.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.