Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
December 12, 2018 2:53 p.m.
As a New Year approaches Fernandina Beach voters have put to bed one more contest for seats on the Fernandina Beach City Commission. Is there a better way to conduct city elections? One that will achieve higher voter participation?
With 24.94 percent of Fernandina Beach’s 10,873 registered voters turning out to vote in the December 11 run-off election for Group 4 seat on the City Commission, Mike Lednovich emerged the winner with 1,414 votes (52.14 percent) over Bradley Bean who garnered 1,298 votes (47.86 percent). This means that Mr. Lednovich will serve to represent all the people of the city, even though only 13 percent of all registered voters voted for him.
This is by no means meant to challenge the legitimacy of Mr. Lednovich’s victory. He ran an excellent campaign with a message that resonated with enough voters to give him 116 more votes than Mr. Bean. That is a clear, legitimate win by any definition. He deserves our congratulations on his successful campaign and our support as he assumes his duties on the City Commission. Both he and his opponent ran clean campaigns. Mr. Bean, who stuck his toe into the political waters with this race, is certainly young enough and capable enough to continue seeking elected office in future elections.
But with such low voter turnout in a run-off election, one must wonder whether a run-off is truly worth the costs and efforts for both the candidates and the government. The level of interest among the general electorate does not seem apparent or inspiring.
Lower the threshold from majority to a percentage of 40
Perhaps it is time to revisit the City Charter with respect to the portion dealing with elections. Instead of a guaranteed run-off if no candidate receives a majority of votes cast in the general election, perhaps there could be some provisional language inserted to say that a run-off will only be held if a candidate does not receive a certain percentage of votes cast, for example 40 percent.
Such a change could make the system better in a couple of ways. A required threshold for votes would ensure that a substantial number of people supported the candidate. This would be crucial in the off chance that as many as five or more candidates were in the race. By requiring a higher percent than a mere plurality, citizens could be assured that a candidate with only a couple hundred votes would not automatically be declared the winner.
Elections would improve in another way under such a system. Instead of just campaigning enough to guarantee a place in the top two positions in the run-off election, candidates would would be able to go all out in the general. A more robust general election, especially when candidates don’t need hold back campaign funds that might be needed for a run-off, might engage more voters and even result in a candidate’s winning a majority of votes cast.
Now that city elections are run every two years, with either two or three commissioners elected in alternating races, there are other possibilities. Since city commissioners are not elected to serve a geographic district, but run at large to represent the entire city, why not do away with the distinction of “Groups,” an artificial construct, and let all interested candidates run for commission every two years. In such a system, the top two (or three) vote getters would be elected. This would reinforce that the candidates are running for office, as opposed to running against an individual.
The scenarios described above have been used in various communities and seem to work. Maybe they are worth considering, along with other ideas, here in Fernandina Beach. Increasing voter engagement and turnout should be important goals for the community. A formal review of the City Charter on the topic of elections would engage the public in surfacing ideas for the community to consider.
These are my thoughts. I’d be interested in reading yours.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.