by Harvey Ward
In times of deep political division finding common ground — even on local issues — is hard. We should be able to agree, however, that democracy works better when more citizens vote and that our government needs to be more efficient and less expensive.
Gainesville can simultaneously drive up voter participation and drive down the cost of running elections by moving elections for Gainesville City Commission from the current stand-alone spring model to the traditional fall election cycle.
Gainesville Votes! is a group of committed citizens who are working to do exactly this. Right now city voters are stuck in constant cycle of elections every single spring. Voters participate in rates as low as eleven percent and these elections cost taxpayers upwards of $230,000 every year.
By contrast, in the city of Tallahassee, which holds city elections in the fall cycle, as many as 76 percent of voters participate in local elections. What’s more, Tallahassee spends less than $90,000 every two years on its elections. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to realize the millions of dollars of savings this plan provides over multiple years.
We believe Gainesville can do better than its record shows. The time has come to move our city commission elections to the fall. We propose following the model successfully used by the Alachua County School Board: Non-partisan elections occurring in August (alongside county, state and federal primaries) of every even year. When a run-off is necessary, it would be held on the first Tuesday in November along with county, state and federal elections.
To accomplish this reform, Gainesville Votes! needs the support of 7,463 fellow Gainesville voters willing to sign a petition before May 29. We are collecting signatures right now. Assuming that we reach our goal, the question of whether to amend the city charter will appear before city voters on the November 2016 ballot.
As a result of this reform, city commission terms would be four years, just like the school board and every county elected office. However, no current commissioner would have her or his current term lengthened or shortened.
We need you. Now. Not only to sign your own petition, but to tell your friends, family, co-workers, etc. – every registered Gainesville city voter you know – about our campaign.
Right now Gainesville Votes! is working hard to raise awareness of the campaign. You’ll see us at events around town; and we hope you’ll ask questions. We’ll make presentations to civic clubs, churches and any group who wants more information. You can read about us on our Facebook page or on our web page: GainesvilleVotes.org. At either, you can download the petition. Feel free to make as many copies as you like. Signed petitions may be returned to PO Box 12873, Gainesville, FL 32604.
We believe good government transcends political party. Our plan aligns city elections with all the other elections. It breaks the cycle of never-ending elections and allows voters — and commissioners — to focus on governing rather than electioneering. It saves taxpayers money. And it has the potential to substantially increase voter participation.
Reforming Gainesville elections is good government in action.