Hardeeville mulls ending election commission
Subheadline: Jan. workshop will focus on November vote, giving county election authority
Hardeeville’s residents might be headed to the polls during even-numbered years in November — and its election commission could be abolished.
The city has held local elections in May, but in 2016 city council voted to change the date to the first Tuesday of November in even years, beginning in 2018.
Hardeeville Election Commission Chairperson Jane Kaman said moving the date to November and ending Hardeeville’s election commission would benefit the city.
“This could help save the city money by moving the date,” Kaman said. “During the election in May, while the voter turnout was average in most precincts, there was one precinct that only saw four voters, so moving the date could help save money for the city.”
City officials plan to review an updated resolution at an upcoming workshop that would keep the election dates in November in even years while also abolishing the Hardeeville Election Commission and have the county handle the elections. The workshop is set for 5 p.m., Jan. 9 in city council chambers.
“We have asked our attorneys to write a resolution to review at an upcoming workshop seeking to change the date to be held on the first Tuesday in November when national elections are held,” Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said. “The elections would then be handled by the county and the city election commission would not be needed with the county handling them all.”
Williams said the city plans to hold its elections in even years with national and state elections, with all elections being on the same ballot.
“Voter turnout is much higher in November than in May and that’s one of the main reasons we are looking at the change,” Williams said. “We have debated on whether we should hold elections in even or odd years and we seemed to agree that even years would be better.”
John Kemp, who spoke on behalf of the Jasper County Election Board during the Dec. 7 city council meeting, asked the city to include the county in the upcoming workshop to further discuss the issue.
The city received a letter dated Oct. 30 from the Jasper County Board of Voter Registration and Elections outlining its options.
“We met with the state and provided the city with their options in a letter,” Jasper County Board of Registration and Elections Chairman Joe Arzillo said last week. “It’s their decision; we just wanted to make sure they knew what could be done. Once they decide how they want to handle their elections, they will let us know. We have input, but we don’t have any influence concerning their decision.”
The letter states that the city might want to consider moving its election date back to May to avoid “voter fatigue.” It also mentions the option of holding the election in odd years in November rather than even years.
“The primary driver for municipalities choosing the statewide General Election date is the belief that it will increase voter turnout,” the letter states. “While it may increase the number of voters who receive a ballot featuring municipal offices, it does not necessarily increase the actual number of votes cast for municipal offices. This is due to a well-known election phenomenon of ‘voter fatigue.’ ”
Voter fatigue, the letter said, holds that as the voter moves down the ballot, the less likely they are to vote for each subsequent office. Municipal elections are at the end of the statewide General Election ballot, placing those offices in the worst position for voter fatigue, the letter said. The letter notes when municipal elections are held in odd years, the elections hold the top ballot position.
The letter says the state Election Commission recommends all municipal elections be held in November in odd-numbered years.
“I disagree with the idea of voter fatigue,” Williams said. “I think when people have to come to the polls more frequently rather than just voting on all elections together on one ballot, that’s what I would see as more of a problem with fatigue.”
The letter also said as a municipality, Hardeeville has “the right to set dates for an election” and to have an election commission who has the authority to conduct the election.
According to the state Election Commission data, 47 percent of municipalities hold their elections in the odd year in November, 13 percent hold elections in the even years and 40 percent hold elections on other dates.
“We will be reviewing the resolution, but at this point it looks as though the majority of council seems to want to keep our election date in November in even years with all elections on the same ballot,” Williams said.