DESTIN — City Councilman Parker Destin hopes moving the city’s election day from March to November will lead to more voter participation.
At last Monday’s council meeting, the majority of his fellow Destin council members agreed with his request to have staff work with the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections office to change the election day to November in even-numbered years.
The council will soon be asked to approve an ordinance to make that change official. Upon approval, the next city election would be in November 2020 and coincide with the presidential election.
Destin and other local municipal elections in March routinely see voter turnouts of less than 20 percent. General elections in November usually see a much higher turnout.
For example, in the 2016 general election, which included the presidential race, almost 76 percent of Okaloosa County’s registered voters cast ballots.
“Low voter turnout in our (city) elections has been troubling to me,” Destin said.
Earlier this year, he looked at the city charter, which states the “regular election of the mayor and city council members shall be held on the day of the state general election in even-numbered years.”
“I don’t think we ever amended our charter to change this,” Destin said.
According to city information, the charter in the city’s year of incorporation of 1984 designated council seats one through four be elected in 1988 and every four years following, and council seats five through seven be elected in 1986 and every four years following. The mayor’s term was two years.
Elections were the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November from 1984 through 1992.
But in 1993, the Florida Legislature enacted a law that provided for uniform filing and election dates for all general municipal elections to the second Tuesday in March in each even-numbered year, according to city information. With the charter amendment, the mayor’s seat became a four-year term.
The council's broad home rule power includes the ability to enact an ordinance to change the city's election day, according to the city's legal counsel.
Moving the next city election to November 2020 would extend the council terms of Destin, Chatham Morgan, Cyron Marler and Steven Menchel.
This past March, Menchel won a special election and the right to serve the final year of former Councilman Tuffy Dixon’s second term. Dixon resigned last December after saying he was tired of the city’s contentious politics.
After the possibly extended council terms came up at Monday’s meeting, Mayor Gary Jarvis shared his initial reaction.
“What a bonus,” Jarvis said.
“Or a curse,” Marler quipped.