A simple plan to increase turnout
Today, Chattanooga voters will select a new mayor and as many as seven new council members to lead the city for the next four years.
Only 18 percent of registered voters -- about 18,750 people -- voted during the last city election in 2009. Turnout isn't predicted to be much better today.
In a city with almost 105,000 registered voters, only about 20,000 are expected to vote. That means only about one out of every nine Chattanooga residents will cast a ballot to determine the mayor and City Council members.
With so much on the line -- crime rates, property taxes, economic vitality, the size and scope of local government to name just a few issues -- why are so few people turning out to vote?
The biggest issue is the timing of the election. While Hamilton County and many area municipalities situate their elections to coincide with the state and federal elections that occur in either August or November of even-numbered years, Chattanooga holds its elections during March in the year after the presidential elections.
Chattanooga City Council member Deborah Scott has led a charge to increase voter turnout and make Chattanooga's city election more relevant. Under her plan, the city elections would be moved to August to coincide with state and federal primaries, when turnouts well over 50 percent are commonplace. City runoff elections would take place on presidential Election Day, when turnout is at its highest.
Unfortunately, Scott's great idea to increase interest in, and turnout for, city elections never got much traction in the council. That's because if the plan were implemented, the mayor and councilmembers at the time would have their terms in office shortened by about four months. That certainly seems like a small inconvenience for the opportunity to forever increase city election turnout threefold or more.
Maybe the new council members elected today will not turn out to be as self-interested as many of those currently serving. It would be nice to have more people, like Scott, in the City Council who are willing to fight for an election date that gives more Chattanoogans a voice -- even if it costs them a few extra days in office.
Rico thinks we're racist
During a debate between District 7 opponents Manny Rico and Chris Anderson on the WGOW radio program "FRED the Show" last week, Rico inferred that this editorial page had not endorsed him because he is a Latino. In reality, we didn't endorse him because he has been a tax-hiking, big-spending rubber stamp for Mayor Ron Littlefield's failed administration.
If a Latino who supported limited, responsible and transparent government were on the ballot, we would be happy to endorse him. But there's not.
Races to watch
While the mayoral contest promises to be a snoozer, both because it's likely to be a blowout and because the person expected to win, Andy Berke, has brought nothing in the way of personality, charisma or ideas to the campaign, there are still several races worth watching today. The most interesting races are those that could result in a runoff.
If no candidate captures more than 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two candidates then go head-to-head in an April 9 runoff election.
The races most likely to go to a runoff are the District 1 and District 4 contests.
District 1 features four candidates, three of whom have a realistic shot of winning. Those three -- Tom McCullough, Jim Folkner and Chip Henderson -- are expected to split the votes in such a way that no candidate receives a majority. That will leave the top two in an April 9 showdown.
In District 4, incumbent Jack Benson has become such a polarizing force that he drew four opponents. While none of the four challengers is expected to win more than half of the votes cast, Benson likely won't either.
That should leave the liberal Benson in a runoff with the top vote-getting conservative challenger. If the supporters of the three anti-Benson candidates who don't make the runoff are willing to coalesce behind the one who does, Benson will get a well-deserved boot from City Council. If, however, there is too big of a rift among the four conservative candidates after this hard-fought election, Benson could retain his seat in the runoff.