Tax increases work. Controversial projects help. Scandal is best.
Without drama to get people riled up, it's hard to attract voters to March elections such as the Tuesday contests in 23 cities, towns and villages in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The low turnout and high cost — a March election can top $100,000 — has local governments in both counties debating when it's best to hold their elections.
In a referendum Tuesday, Oakland Park is asking voters to move the city's elections from March to November. More than half of Broward's local governments have switched to November in the past 10 years.
Lake Worth is also holding a referendum on election dates, asking residents to move the city's elections from November to March. Almost all other municipal elections in Palm Beach County are held in March.
The conflicting trends in the two counties show there's no correct answer as to whether March or November is best, said Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel, who's been an elected city official for most of the past 20 years.
"It depends on who you ask," she said. "Both ways have their difficulties, and both ways have their positives."
Lake Worth is the only one of Palm Beach County's 38 municipalities with November elections.
But Boca Raton may soon consider moving to November. Troy McLellan, president and chief executive of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, said his board has been discussing the advantages of November elections, and is planning to formally ask the city to consider a switch.
Starting in 1975, state law set all Broward municipal elections for the second Tuesday in March. The trend toward November began with Weston, which spearheaded a 2004 change in state law that allowed Broward's municipalities to switch from March to November.
Since then 16 of Broward's 31 cities have switched. In November 2012, Fort Lauderdale voters rejected a move to switch to November elections. The proposal also would have lengthened terms in office for the mayor and commissioners and eliminated runoff elections.
"I understand the logic on both [sides]. Most cities do it [switch] for fiscal reasons. Other cities say I don't want to get lost in the shuffle," said Mary Cooney, director of public services for the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office.
Advocates of November elections say the two biggest pluses are cost and turnout.
It's generally more expensive to hold local elections in March than November. That's because cities that hold elections in November of even-numbered years can piggyback on the federal, state and county elections that are already being held.
In March, municipalities pay the full cost, including poll worker salaries and ballot printing.
The high-profile contests in November draw much higher turnouts — about 70 percent in recent presidential elections and 50 percent in recent gubernatorial years — than March city elections, which sometimes attract single-digit turnout percentages.
"We will have higher turnout and encourage democracy," said Troy McLellan, president and chief executive of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, whose board is working on a proposal to move his city's elections to November from March. He also touted the financial savings of November elections.
"We will have higher turnout and encourage democracy," said McLellan, the Chamber of Commerce chief. He also touted the financial savings of November elections.
Backers of March say elections dedicated just to local government are better.
In November, themunicipal elections are at the bottom of the ballot and are an afterthought for many people. Voters who go to the trouble to turn out for a March election likely know the issues and the candidates, said Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.
"They become extremely educated voters," Bucher said. "They're being driven out by an interest in their city."
In November, Whelchel said, it's much harder for a local council or commission candidate to break through the noise and compete with the better-funded candidates for Congress, state Senate, state House and County Commission. Local issues get lost when they're at the bottom of the list of all those elections.
"If I had to compete with all of those levels of elected officials, not only would my voice would have had to be much louder, my costs would have been much higher," said Oakland Park Commissioner Anne Sallee, who didn't seek a second term in Tuesday's election. "I don't think I would have run if it were a presidential year and I had to compete with the president and the senators and the legislators and the congressmen."
Sallee said she also thinks it would be hard for municipal officials, who run without party labels for their jobs, to remain nonpartisan in November. "You'd get lumped in with one side or another, which would work both for and against you, but would change the tenor of the campaign."
The length of the November 2012 ballot was one of the causes of long lines at many early voting and Election Day polling places because it took a long time for voters to complete.
By the time voters get to the bottom of a lengthy November ballot, there's a lot of what Bucher termed "voter fatigue." Sallee said that means some tired voters are "just checking off names based on the names or whether they're a male or a female."
But McLellan, of the Chamber of Commerce, said candidates can find ways to stand out and get elected.
"I'd take advantage of the noise and embrace the noise and become a part of it," he said. "If you're doing your job and you really want to be an elected official, you ought to be putting in the time and the money."
But Oakland Park Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue, who is leaving office after Tuesday's election because of term limits, said candidates can find ways to stand out and get elected.
November contests could be trouble "if you can't think outside the box," she said. "If you're doing a good job out there you're going to get elected."
Broward city, town and village elections
March: Coconut Creek, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hillsboro Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Lazy Lake, Lighthouse Point, Miramar, Oakland Park, Pembroke Park, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Pompano Beach (switching to November in 2014), Sea Ranch Lakes, Sunrise (special election).
November: Cooper City, Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, Margate, North Lauderdale, Parkland, Southwest Ranches, Tamarac, Weston, West Park, Wilton Manors.
Note: Municipalities in bold-face type have elections on Tuesday. Cities, towns and villages don't all hold elections every year. So some with March elections don't hold them every March and some with November elections don't hold them every November.
Palm Beach County city, town and village elections
February: Jupiter Inlet Colony, Palm Beach
March: Atlantis, Belle Glade, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Briny Breezes, Cloud Lake, Delray Beach, Glen Ridge, Golf, Greenacres, Gulf Stream, Haverhill, Highland Beach, Hypoluxo, Juno Beach, Jupiter, Lake Clarke Shores, Lake Park, Lantana, Loxahatchee Groves, Manalapan (referendum only), Mangonia Park, North Palm Beach, Ocean Ridge, Pahokee, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach Shores, Palm Springs, Riviera Beach, Royal Palm Beach, South Bay, South Palm Beach, Tequesta, Wellington, West Palm Beach.
November: Lake Worth (referendum questions on Tuesday's ballot)
Note: Municipalities in bold-face type have elections on Tuesday. Cities, towns and villages don't all hold elections every year. So some with March elections don't hold them every March and some with November elections don't hold them every November.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun