Does an election bill designed to increase voter turnout step on the authority of local governments?

by | Feb 5, 2018

 

A legislative proposal designed to improve voter turnout in municipal elections in Florida is running into opposition from some local governments who are concerned the state is infringing on their home rule.

Under current law, elections for members of a city’s governing body are to be conducted during the general election in November of even-numbered years unless the governing body of the municipality adopts an ordinance to change the date.

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, has proposed legislation that would give the state complete authority to establish the dates of elections of municipal officers.

The bill requires municipalities to choose from among the following dates to hold its elections: the general election, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in an odd-numbered year, or the third Tuesday in March in an odd-numbered or even-numbered year.

Proponents say the reason for the change is to hold local municipal elections in conjunction with general elections when voter turnout tends to be higher.

But some local municipalities that set their own election dates see the measure as another way that the state is imposing on the rights of local governments.

“There are 400 plus cities in Florida,” Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said in an email to state lawmakers regarding the proposal. “They each decide when to hold their elections, a right provided them in the Florida Constitution. (The bill) is a ‘fix’ for something that doesn’t need fixing.”

But turnout numbers in local elections would suggest a fix might be needed.

In Bay County, for example, turnout for the Nov. 8, 2016, general election was 75 percent. Turnout numbers for two local elections held in Bay County in April of 2015 were just over 16 percent.

The same scenario occurred in Okaloosa County where the turnout for the November 2016 general election approached 76 percent, while the number of voters going to the polls for municipal elections in March of last year was just under 11 percent.

The legislation is due to be heard in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Tuesday afternoon and has one other committee stop before it reaches the full Senate for consideration.

A similar measure sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, in the House passed its only committee stop and awaits a vote by the full chamber.

 

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