During its recent session, the Legislature tried to dictate the dates of all local government elections and mandate that all municipalities vote during the national elections.
By Gary Bruhn
During its recent session, the Legislature tried to dictate the dates of all local government elections and mandate that all municipalities vote during the national elections. Nothing happened this session, but the push will be back. Like a rash, such issues can return again and again.
I opposed this mandate for two reasons.
First, it’s a case of home rule. Local governments should decide what is best for their communities. I believe the government closest to the people represents the people best, and we know when to hold our elections.
Second, combining all of the elections in one vote means that local government elections and issues would be at the bottom of the ballot, where people suffer “voter fatigue.” This is the case when too many questions are posed to the voter and they just quit and hand in their ballot.
We could have charter questions, referendums and pages of ballot questions. But little did I know we could also suffer from “voter apathy.” We had minimal questions to vote upon March 15. Yet still … citizens showed up and didn’t vote. When you leave a ballot question empty, it’s called an under vote.
Earlier this month, we combined our local government elections with Florida’s presidential primary. As our state legislators hoped, the voter turnout was excellent. As a matter of fact, phenomenal! But who knew that thousands of people would come to the polls and turn in their ballots half-empty. In Windermere, we went from a voter turnout of 13% in our last election to over 50%! This is outstanding. But when you view the results, you realize people will come to the polls, but they may not vote.
We now have the statistics for what happens when you combine national elections with local elections. Citizens voted for presidential candidates, yet they ignored our local candidates: 663 votes put our top vote-getter in office for the Windermere Town Council, yet 903 votes went uncast. Yes, 54% of Windermere voters showed up and voted. But 35% of them decided to leave their local ballot unchecked.
Windermere was not alone. In Winter Park, one commission seat saw more than 1,100 under votes. In Ocoee, there were more than 500 under votes for mayor.
Hence, the question I pose: Is it better to have a lot of people show up and not vote, or have a smaller amount of people show up and vote?
I would rather have people on Election Day who will vote and are informed than those who show up and leave the box unchecked.
I believe our local governments know when we should hold our elections. Other mayors in Orange County believe this. So do the Florida League of Cities, our state Supervisors of Elections, the Florida League of Mayors and the Florida Association of Counties. So do many newspaper editorial boards.
Go figure. All of these diverse organizations agree.
You should too. Tell your legislators.