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Kudos to Council - and it’s about time

January 18, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council on Monday voted to move the Cape's municipal elections back to even years, when voters countywide also cast ballots for federal, state and county races.

It's an appropriate move - and one that is long overdue through no fault of present or past city councils, or the current Lee County Supervisor of Elections, Tommy Doyle.

The move from even year, fall elections more than 15 years ago came about after former Lee County supervisor of elections Philinda Young announced her office could no longer accommodate municipal elections on the same ballots as other races because those even-year ballots had become too long.

She informed Lee County's municipalities that they needed to reschedule their elections and Cape Coral did so - unwillingly - via ordinance.

If voter turnout is any indication, the forced separation of elections never worked.

Not in the spring, the city's first experiment with odd-year elections in 2003.

Not in the fall, where city elections moved in 2007.

Not at all.

The city of Cape Coral held its first odd-year primary in March 2003.

Turnout was less than 11 percent, much lower than the predicted, but still abysmal, 25-30 percent Ms. Young had forecast.

That April's General Election, which included two city council seat runoffs and a $40 million parks bond referendum, did only marginally better. Turnout was about 20 percent.

Cape Coral traditionally had had the best turnout in the county.

Although Cape officials, joined by others among the county's other municipalities, protested the Lee Elections Office refusal to reconsider - even taking their frustration to the state level during a legislative delegation trip to Tallahassee in 2004 - the supervisor who followed Ms. Young, Sharon Harrington, subsequently held firm to the separation schedule previously imposed.

The election of 2016 gave the issue new life - and a new chance.

Mr. Doyle, who ran on a platform that included a pledge to reconsider election scheduling, if asked, defeated Ms. Harrington.

Cape officials asked - and after discussion, received the OK from the Elections Office, which agreed to accommodate the city's request to be included on even year, fall ballots.

This means the municipal election that would have taken place this year will take place in 2020, and the municipal election that would have taken place in fall of 2021 will take place in 2022.

Cape voters will vote for District seats 2, 3, 5 and 7 next year on the same ballot they will vote for their presidential candidate of choice. We will cast ballots for Cape Coral City Council District seats 1, 4, 6 and mayor in 2022 on the same ballot that will include candidates for governor.

We're sure turnout will be better.

And we know the city will save a pile of money as it also has had to pay the Lee Elections Office to hold its isolated elections in odd years.

Estimated savings for Cape taxpayers?

In 2017, the city paid $450,049 for its municipal election.

In 2015, the cost was $477,953.

Piggybacking on the even-year ballot will cost but a fraction. Adding the Cape Coral GO bond referendum for parks to the ballot last November, for example, cost the city $433.

That's nearly a million dollar savings in one full council cycle alone.

We have heard the downside some perceive: Current Cape council members will get an "extra" year in office.

We're not sure that's something all among them might consider a benefit.

But even if there is some big political or personal windfall we are missing here, even if there are "better" candidates out there than those currently serving, this is not about the current council or its members.

This is about accommodating - re-enfranchising, if you will - voters who for whatever reason only turn out for those "big ballots" that old technology and past ballot options may have had difficulty accommodating.

The change also addresses another long-debated downside of low turnout here in the Cape - that those casting a ballot in the odd-year city elections tended to fall primarily into two categories - "supervoters," who cast a ballot in every election regardless, and "special interests," those with an agenda to foster or an ax to grind.

Particularly the latter category.

While we understand the argument that low turnout can be statistically comparable to higher turnout, we, as a city, have been pretty hard on newly elected council members when races have been tight and turnout low.

They too often have been tarred with "lack of mandate" or "special interests" baggage, simply because we do not turn out in high enough numbers to negate those claims.

So higher turnout.

A significant tax savings.

And, perhaps, a mitigation of mandate arguments aimed at those who serve.

We thank city council, notably Councilmember David Stokes who brought the ordinance forward, and Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle.

We see only positives here for our community.

- Breeze editorial



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