City voters are deciding in a referendum this month whether to shift the municipal election date from its longtime April slot to coincide with August general elections beginning in 2016.
It appears to be a question of whether you’re satisfied with city government or believe more people should be drawn to the polls. Election Day is April 15, and early voting ends Thursday (April 10).
City resident Fred Mindach, who voted in favor of moving the election date during early voting last week, believes it could lead to a bigger turnout. The typical participation rate of 4 to 6 percent is too low, he says.
“I think we can increase it a little bit if we change it,” says Mindach, who runs a personal training studio. “People tend to turn out a little more for the bigger elections.”
Murfreesboro has 65,148 registered voters this April, and with an open mayoral seat due to Mayor Tommy Bragg’s decision not to seek re-election, more people could come to the polls to pick between City Council members Ron Washington and Shane McFarland. When Bragg topped former City Councilman Jack Ross 12 years ago, the city recorded a double-digit turnout, but those are rare.
Longtime Murfreesboro resident David Hall says he isn’t concerned as much about turnout as he is about partisan politics getting involved.
“I just hate to see the city election get caught up in the primaries,” Hall says moments after emerging from an early voting booth last week. “I don’t want to see the city election become a partisan affair with Republicans and Democrats fighting each other.”
Hall, a certified public accountant with Hall Davidson & Associates, says he also opposes a switch from at-large representation by six council members to one with districts, though that isn’t a question on the ballot.
He contends that Murfreesboro has “good city government” and he wants to maintain the same type of leadership.
Hall’s wife, Shirley, agrees, saying, “I don’t think the city and county should get mixed up in each other’s business.”
How it works elsewhere
Moving the city election to August would make it coincide with the county’s general election and primaries for state and federal seats.
In Smyrna and La Vergne, election date changes have brought more voters to the polls for municipal elections.
Smyrna’s town election turnout jumped to about 70 percent in November 2008, when 12,862 of 20,551 registered voters participated. That was a dramatic increase from 12 percent in 2006 when 2,110 of 16,941 registered voters went to the polls, according to county election office records.
La Vergne saw a similar increase when its voter turnout increased to about 60 percent when 8,888 of 15,786 registered voters participated in November 2008, up from 13 percent in October 2006 when 1,686 of 12,883 registered voters went to the polls, records show.
What the mayoral candidates say
Councilman McFarland says he has “no problem” with changing the election date if the ultimate goal is to bring more people to the polls. It could also save about $50,000 by eliminating the cost of holding a separate city election, he notes.
At the same time, though, he believes the shift could create a more partisan situation with people participating in August primaries selecting candidates along party lines and dilute city candidates’ election signs. Murfreesboro elections are non-partisan affairs and candidates typically do not declare a party affiliation, although local parties have endorsed candidates in the past.
McFarland points out, however, that he’s had more people tell him they’re glad to get the opportunity to move the election than who’ve told him they want to keep it the same.
Councilman Washington takes a similar stance.
“I’m glad we’re going to let citizens make that choice,” he says.
But he’s not in favor of moving the election. He believes mixing it up with other elections in a county as partisan as Rutherford will “skew the vote.” Republicans have dominated elections in recent years, and Democrats held the upper hand until the 2000s.
City candidates also will compete with those running in other elections for campaign dollars and election sign space, he says.
“I don’t believe low voter turnout is really the driving force,” Washington says.