A council majority opposes moving the city’s election day to match state and federal elections.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera wants to boost voter turnout by moving the city’s election date.
On Thursday, he learned the turnout from other City Council members would be against him.
During a council workshop, Viera was the only unequivocal supporter of switching the city’s municipal elections from spring in odd-number years to November in even-number years. A move would let city races parallel general elections for state and federal offices.
“The principle that I operate under is that we want more people voting,” said Viera.
The April 25 runoff election for the City Council drew ballots from less than 26,000 voters — or 10.76% of the city’s more than 240,000 registered voters. The March primary election, featuring multiple high-profile races for City Council, didn’t generate much excitement, either. It drew a 13.65% turnout — or participation from fewer than 33,000 voters.
Voter turnout in all of Hillsborough County in the November 2020 presidential election was nearly 77%, and turnout in the November 2022 gubernatorial election was 52.4%.
The drop in municipal election participation is most notable among minority districts, said Viera.
“Our system promotes a voting pool that does not look like Tampa,” he said.
And the $543,000 cost to the city for the 2023 elections translated to $9 for every vote.
“It literally would have been cheaper to buy every voter a sandwich on election day than have an election,” said Tampa attorney Matt Newton, an advocate for changing the election date.
St. Petersburg voters approved a change in their municipal election date in a 2022 referendum. The November 2021 election, in which voters selected Ken Welch as mayor, drew a little over 67,000 people to the ballot box, or a 36% turnout. A year later, more than 100,000 people weighed in on the charter change, with 70% of the voters approving moving the city elections to even-numbered years.
Viera’s colleagues, however, didn’t share his enthusiasm.
“I am very opposed to this,” said council member Bill Carlson.
“We’re never going to break through the noise,” council member Alan Clendenin said about sharing the election season with candidates for state and federal offices.
Council member Charlie Miranda similarly questioned the benefit of having local candidates on the lower portion of the ballot in a November election instead of at the top of a spring ballot. Council chairperson Guido Maniscalco said he, too, was concerned about the proposal.
Viera retreated from his original pitch to further explore the election day switch. He eventually asked for a future workshop to discuss all ideas on how to increase voter participation in municipal elections. The council voted 7-0 to have that discussion in April 2024.
This story has been updated to correct the attribution and quote about the cost of holding the 2023 city elections in Tampa.