There is a topic lurking just below the surface this Election Day, one that policy wonks will debate furiously, but that most people are oblivious to. I’m talking about when city elections are held in South Miami.
There is a proposal on the South Miami ballot this November 3rd to change the City’s Charter and move Election Day from February to November. Not surprisingly, two City officials, one current and one former, former Mayor Phil Stoddard and Vice Mayor Bob Welsh aka “Bicycle Bob” have come out against it. Keeping the election in February will continue to suppress voter turnout.
Before we get into it, here’s a breakdown of South Miami’s precincts and voters. The City is divided into 8 precincts and as of September 2020 had 8,112 registered voters. Demographically, the City has 2,800 Non-Hispanic/White voters,1,203 Black voters, and 3,377 Hispanic voters.
Voter registration at the time of the February 2020 election was lower at 7,838. The voters in that election only cast a total of 2,175 votes for a turnout rate of just 27.75 percent. In 2018, there were 7,585 registered voters and 2,176 cast ballots, meaning the turnout rate was a little higher at 28.69 percent.
By contrast, 70 percent of registered voters in South Miami turned out in the November 2018 midterm election and 77 percent of South Miami voters turned out during the last Presidential election in 2016. Turnout for Black and Hispanic voters is higher in the Fall than in the Winter.
South Miami voters turn out at a higher rate in November than they do in February. So why have Stoddard and Welsh come out against greater voter participation? For Stoddard, he says it’s because “all the campaign helpers are working for the big campaigns.” Welsh warns that candidates running in November will have to “sell their souls” to contributors, while candidates who run in February get to keep their souls firmly attached.
Both Stoddard and Welsh are full of nonsense. Stoddard and Welsh are the beneficiaries of a system that has lower voter turnout. It is likely that they would have faced defeat had their last elections been held in the fall. And the present Mayor, Sally Philips would probably have lost to either Horace Feliu or Lina Sierra when a much larger number of minority voters came out to the polls.
The real reason is that Stoddard, who looks like he’s angling to run again in 2022, and Welsh want to keep things the way they are in terms of the election date is that it will keep things the way they are in terms of politics it the City — stagnant. And stagnant is how they like it. And it sounds like it is the very reason they want to keep the election in February and suppress voting.