Recently Lee County Elections Supervisor Tommy Doyle came to a Fort Myers Beach Town Council meeting to suggest that our council consider making some changes to our council elections.
His first suggestion was to move our council elections from March to November; his second was to extend council terms from 3 to 4 years. The combination would allow for council elections every two years on Election Day in November, coinciding with Presidential and mid-term elections, both of which increase voter turnout.
His rationale was to save the town the costs of holding elections when no other entity has anything on the ballot in Lee County.
Every one of the six municipalities in Lee County, except Fort Myers Beach, has four year council terms. Fort Myers Beach is the outlier with three year terms. Three of those municipalities hold their council elections in November, the other three in March. Sometimes our Council election lines up with the Sanibel and Estero elections, but not always because they have four year terms. We also don’t yet know if either one or both will move their elections to November.
More importantly, we should be focused on increasing voter turnout for our elections. Turnout for this past March election was just 36.7%. Slightly more than one in three voters bothered to vote. The highest turnout the town has had in the past 18 years was 58.4% in 2016, when our council election coincided with the Presidential Preference Primary. Only four times in those 18 years has our turnout topped 40%, and two of those were when the Town still held council elections in November. Yes, we used to hold elections in November, but about 15 years ago, switched to March elections.
It’s time we move elections back to November. It’s also time we change our council terms to four years, not just because it’s the term of virtually every other elected office in the state, county and our other local taxing districts, but because it makes sense, for us.
Anyone who has observed our council elections knows there is little chance of the council race being drowned out by national or state races.
One rationale for keeping our 3-year terms and March elections is that it fits our unique little town. We like being different.
Let’s be different in ways that don’t cost extra tax money.
Another is that everyone is here in March. Voters live here year round. March is the busiest month of the year. Voters are here in November too, and much less busy.
In 2016, voters defeated a referendum question regarding extending council member terms from three to four years. It was one of 21 charter referendum questions on the ballot. There was little incentive to extend council terms to four years then.
Doyle’s suggestion of four year terms with elections in November offers significant cost savings and improved voter turnout. Voters deserve to weigh in on the question. With just that question on the ballot, and time to discuss the benefits and implications of just that question, voters may well come to a different conclusion than they did three years ago.
Let the voters decide. Council should get the ball rolling to put the question on the ballot.