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Lewisburg leaders oppose moving city election date

Friday, August 3, 2007

A consensus of those on Lewisburg's City Council reflects support for the Tennessee Municipal League's position against a proposed state law that would force cities to hold their elections with the state primary in August or general elections in November.

That local position was revealed Tuesday evening during a workshop session of the council after Mayor Bob Phillips spoke of an effort by two state lawmakers to go a step further than a recently enacted law that allows - but does not require - municipalities to change the schedule of their elections.

No votes are taken during council workshops, but shortly after Phillips adjourned the session, a quick poll of council members showed only faint praise or actual opposition to changing the election date.

Moving Lewisburg's election from early May to November would be acceptable to Quinn Brandon who was elected to the council three months ago, but she wouldn't want to have to campaign in oppressive July heat toward an August election, she said in a lighthearted comment.

Councilmen and the mayor said they oppose enactment of a state law that would require changing all Tennessee municipalities' elections to coincide with the statewide primary or the federal elections.

Meanwhile, Shelbyville recently changed its election to coincide with the November elections. The council there decided it would help increase voter turn out, according to city officials. Shelbyville's next election is in November 2008 when Americans will elect their next president. Shelbyville elected a new mayor in June, so now its next election is 18 months later, instead of two years.

Some 125 municipalities in Tennessee have moved their elections to November of even years, according to the Tennessee Municipal League. Another 39 hold elections in August. There are 179 other municipalities in the state.

The TML claims that the sponsors of the proposed requirement to change municipal elections have suggested that it's a waste of taxpayers money to hold two elections in the same year. Municipal elections are funded by those governments, not the state.

Municipalities pay county election offices for the advertisements and the temporary election officials who work at the polls.

And so, if municipal elections were held at the same time as a state or federal election, then the state or federal government would pay for poll workers and the advertisements required for elections, according to State Rep. Randy Rinks (D-Savannah) who is sponsoring the requirement with state Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis).

"It's a way to allow locals to save money," Rinks said of the motive behind the proposed law. "The other was to increase voter turnout.

"Maybe the turnout is more important," he said, adding that a local election cost his city of some 8,000 people about $3,500.

Much smaller towns could face similar costs even if only 30 people voted, he said

Low voter turnout includes what Rinks called an "incumbency protection process" because when only a few people vote, each vote influences a greater portion of the decision.

In contrast, the TML says that when municipal elections are held at the same time as national, state and county elections, then municipal issues and candidates get lost in the high-dollar campaigns of national and state elections. When municipal elections are held separately from state, county and federal elections, more attention is focused on municipal office candidates and issues.