61ºF

House panel backs requirements for city elections

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.Municipal elections in Florida would have to be held in November, or in some counties on another single date if every municipality agrees, under a proposal backed by the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The proposal, sponsored by committee Chairman Matt Caldwell, would provide three options for the state's 411 cities, towns and villages: link elections with the statewide November general election; hold the contests on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years; or allow county supervisors of elections to annually set agreed-upon dates for all municipal contests.

"Currently, municipal elections occur in every month in Florida,"  Rep. Matt Caldwell said. The intent of the bill is to boost turnout, which he said for many stand-alone municipal elections  without contentious bond or tax referendums on the ballot  lands between 10 percent and 15 percent. The measure, which must still pick up a Senate companion, is opposed by the Florida League of Cities, which contends the proposal violates home-rule, will require changes to local ordinances and could extend terms of some locally elected officials.

David Cruz, assistant general counsel for the Florida League of Cities, said voters turning out for municipal elections tend to be better-informed about local issues than in general elections dominated by state and federal contests. Rep. Clovis Watson, an Alachua Democrat and retired city manager who opposed the proposal, said he'd like more study conducted on the impacts of the bill. But Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican who supported the proposal, said the committee should "err on the side" of voter turnout.

"It's possible that that electorate will be less informed and it's likely that we will see a tremendous voter fall-off by the time they get to the bottom of the ballot," Harrison said." But there is no doubt that more people will be showing up and will have an opportunity to cast a ballot."