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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Gainesville city officials hope that in the future citizens will be able to cast votes for city commissioners in late summer instead of spring.

It just won’t be anytime in the near future.

At a meeting last week, the Gainesville City Commission postponed a decision that would extend a commissioner’s term from three years to four years, in addition to moving the election date from March to August.

Every year, City Commission elections take place in March. If the new date was approved, Gainesville voters could cast ballots for commissioners around the same time they vote for state representatives, county representatives and school board representatives.

Only two commissioners — Harvey Budd and Charles Goston — expressed discontent regarding the idea. Instead of approving a question to be placed on the March 2018 commissioner ballot that would ask voters whether they’d like the election day to change, a 6-to-1 vote postponed the movement.

“We have five members of the commission that are ready to move forward,” said Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. “We have one who ... I believe just wants a little bit more information and wants to think about it a bit longer.”

If the ballot does pass in the future — and the election date is adjusted — Poe said it could significantly affect future elections, especially in encouraging voter turnout.

“The positive impact is you at least double voter turnout and when you have twice the voters, you have twice the democracy,” Poe said. “Democracy works best when more people participate and this will certainly cause that.”

Like Poe, at-large Commissioner Helen Warren said she’s hopeful the ballot will pass the next time the members vote.

“When it comes back, we’ll have to vote again, and I’m hoping that there will still be six commissioners to support that,” she said. “The main thing that we’ve all been talking about is to get more people to show up for elections.”

Kristen Jackson, a UF civil engineering sophomore, said that while she did vote in the latest spring City Commission elections, she would have preferred to vote in the fall instead.

“Having our elections held at a different time of year makes it harder to inform and interest people,” the 18-year-old said. “More people are likely to vote in congressional and governor races.”

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Warren added that changing the election date would save city money.

“The rough estimate has been that it cost about $100,000 every time we do a city election, independent of any other county or state or national election,” Warren said.

While cost does play a part in why some would like the ballot to pass, Poe said it’s not his main focus.

“The most important thing is increasing voter participation,” he said.


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