1. Opinion

Carlton: Can someone tell me why nobody votes?

Tampa voters, don’t you want one of these pretty stickers?  (AP)
Tampa voters, don’t you want one of these pretty stickers? (AP)
Published Apr. 5, 2019

Something really interesting happened in Chicago the other day: They elected a mayor who is gay, black and a woman — a first.

Now I think we can all agree that Chicago is a town with a lot going on, and that who is mayor there matters. But only about a third of the eligible voters showed up to make this history, which means two-thirds could not be bothered to have a say in what's next for their city.

Around here?

We'd kill for a third.

In the Tampa mayor election last month, a sad 20.56 percent, or barely more than a fifth of city voters, participated. The rest apparently had no time to opine on who decides everything from budgets to buildings to what happens to the park next door for the next four years.

And this just in:


Former police chief Jane Castor is still busy attending forums and getting endorsed by former mayors. Millionaire David Straz is also busy calling press conferences trying to blast her — this week waving around a damning "report" that didn't seem particularly damning — and airing incendiary commercials involving ice cream cones and also brooms.

So yes, these are very different candidates who would take the town down disparate paths. The runoff election looms April 23. Tampa voters, here's your chance.

Here's a theory you hear from election wonks: Castor did so well in the first round — nearly taking it outright with close to 48 percent of the vote compared to Straz at nearly 16 percent — people may assume she'll win it easily without their actual participation. Meanwhile, Straz this week is sending out mailers that double as mail-in ballot requests conveniently pre-addressed to the elections office. He's working it.

And speaking of easy as possible, it already is. We can vote by mail (bonus: They even send you an "I Voted" sticker!), at early voting sites with convenient hours or on election day. (

In fact, any voter who hasn't requested a vote-by-mail ballot gets sent a sample ballot that includes early voting sites and also where they can vote election day. Between that and all the campaign mailers in our mailboxes, Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer says, "I don't know what else we can do to tell people there's an election going on."

And apparently we are proud that we can vote even if we don't. I remember years back when Hillsborough's longtime public defender Judge C. Luckey was ousted by attorney Julie Holt. Asked what happened, he said, "I shook the hands of 10,000 liars." (Then again, maybe they voted for the other candidate and didn't want to tell him.)

So how bad is it?

The voting precinct that includes the University of Tampa — that sprawling, gorgeous college that is the backdrop to so many city photos, smack in the heart of town and deeply dependent on what government does all around its campus — includes about 1,100 voters between the ages of 18 and 25. Presumably these are mostly college students, who tend to be interested and engaged.

And there are ties here. Castor is a UT alum. Philanthropist Straz has his name across one of UT's buildings.

So guess how many of those 1,100 presumably interested and engaged 18-to-25-year-olds voted in the mayor election last month? Crossing your fingers for a third? A quarter, even?

Nine people voted there.

Hey, I get apathy. (I considered majoring in it in college.) I understand hitting the snooze button, delaying a dentist appointment as long as humanly possible, scrambling to get my auto tag before my birthday month's over.

But not even half of us showing up to pick who's next seems not just apathetic, but kind of pathetic, too.

With two weeks to go, who runs Tampa next is up to you, the voters.

Unless you let it be up to someone else.

Contact Sue Carlton at