A proposal introduced in the Florida House intended to increase turnout in municipal elections could lead to substantial changes in when Jacksonville, Baldwin and Beaches voters go to the polls. Rep. Matt Caldwell said he introduced the elections proposal out of concern that too many city officials are being elected by just a small fraction of voters. Caldwell is chairman of State Affairs Committee, which voted Thursday to back the plan requiring municipalities in the same county to hold elections on the same day and preferably in November. Most people know that state and federal elections are held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Caldwell said. “I guarantee you nine out of 10 people are going to say I have no idea” when their municipalities hold elections, he said. He added that statistics bear that out with voter turnout in many city elections hovering around 10-15 percent.
The Florida League of Cities said opposing Caldwell’s measure will be one of its priorities going into the 2016 session. Its representatives argued during Thursday’s meeting that the plan takes away local control over the scheduling of city elections and prioritizes turnout over making sure elections are scheduled in a way that allows voters to get to know the candidates and the issues. Caldwell said he wants to listen to critics and may tweak his plan. He also will need to find someone in the Senate willing to submit companion legislation.
Duval County’s five municipalities have different election dates. Jacksonville voters head to the polls in March with runoffs in May, while Atlantic Beach holds elections in August with November runoffs. Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Baldwin have November elections.
Turnout varies. With a contested mayor’s race, the recent election in Jacksonville had a 37-percent turnout. Nearly 33 percent of Atlantic Beach voters participated in August. However, 49 percent of Duval County voters turned in ballots in November 2014 when Gov. Rick Scott was up for re-election.