Election changes could save money, increase voter turnout
By Lou Ortiz
Consolidating municipal elections or holding them in tandem with countywide races could save some cities tens of thousands of dollars and increase voter turnout.
The conclusions are based on a comprehensive review of the election process in the county by the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, which presented its findings to the commission on Tuesday.
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa called for the study in October. She is now sponsoring a resolution urging municipalities to follow neighboring Broward and Palm Beach counties, where consolidated elections are held.
Under the proposal, municipalities would have three options: share the same election date with other cities; opt to hold municipal elections with countywide races; or keep their stand-alone election process.
The first option would result in all municipalities sharing the cost of the election, while joining with the county would reduce the cost to cities significantly because Miami-Dade would absorb most of the expenses, the report said.
The current stand-alone process requires municipalities to pay for 100% of the costs.
"It will increase voter participation and it will be more efficient," Ms. Sosa said.
County Manager George Burgess agreed. "The consolidation of municipal elections is both feasible and desirable," he said in his report to the county commission. "However, municipal charter amendments will be necessary in order to move election dates, thus cooperation from each municipality will be necessary."
Mr. Burgess noted that the county holds 30 elections each year. "In 2007, July was the only month in which an election did not take place," he said.
"Municipalities can offer Early Voting at no additional cost when held in conjunction with a countywide election," Mr. Burgess said.
"The most mutually beneficial approach is for municipalities to hold consolidated elections in August and November, during odd years, and in conjunction with the Primary and General Elections in even years," he said.
Currently stand-alone elections cost municipalities from $14,863 to $702,321, for expenses incurred by the county for ballot programming, tabulation and equipment delivery, among other things, the report said.
Voter participation in stand-alone elections in 2006 ranged from 4.5% to 30%, according to the report.
"They cost municipalities a lot of money," said Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola. "It makes most sense to maximize those dollars."
Mr. Sola said the savings from consolidating elections could be spent by municipalities on other things. But, he said, it's a political decision each city must make.
Mr. Sola added that some municipalities could switch to consolidated election via ordinance, while for others it would take an amendment to their charters.
Municipalities also may have to extend "term limits for certain offices during the transition to the new schedule," the report says.
"But no one is going to be forced to do anything," Ms. Sosa said. "I'm now getting feedback from the municipalities. I will go to each one by one and sit down with everybody. This is one of the main goals we have."
In the report, Mr. Burgess said the City of Aventura has agreed to pass a resolution this year "moving its municipal election to coincide with the Miami-Dade General Election beginning in 2010."