Following is a speech given by yours truly to the
City of Davenport, Florida, Board of Commissioners on Monday, May 15th 2023.
I know you say you “love this city.” I hear it from every commissioner I have ever asked the question, “Why do you accept such a low paying job?”
“Love,” is what I hear.
One thing I know you don’t love — and neither do your constituents by the way — is the history of low participation in our elections. It’s time to talk about it.
Did you know that the highest voter participation I have recorded in my decade of living in Davenport was 18% in the most recent election? (That was back in 2019.) What that means is that the city is representing only a minority of voters. It still does. That must change. Not only must that change, change is absolutely possible.
According the National Civic League’s author, Jan Brennan, “Research on barriers specific to local elections suggests that lower turnout is frequently a result of a lack of awareness of the candidates and issues, and a lack of understanding of the functions of locally elected officials and their impacts on daily life.” In other words, voters need information from you.
Improving civic participation and trust will require reconnecting residents with their government and demonstrating that participation in local democratic efforts yields results. According to the Journal of Democracy “waning political participation erodes public confidence in local officeholders (and) their performance.”
It’s time to incentivize voting in the city. It’s time for the city to make the case for the impact of local elections.
According Jan Brennan of the Civic League, Bradenton, Florida, reached a 47% voter participation rate in their last mayoral election. I believe that they did that by engaging with voters, not just during their elections but all the time.
What Can Our Commissioners Do?
If each of you takes just one of my suggestions, you’ll make positive change in the communications from your board to the people. My suggestions are these:
- At election time … well, except for this last one … promotion is left primarily up to the candidates to litter our streets with signs that barely say anything more than Vote for X. Because our politicians, who are actively seeking office, do the most promotion about our elections, incentivize potential contestants by giving limited grants of, let’s say, $500 per qualified first-time candidate.
- Further support your election candidates by having a candidates’ webpage on MyDavenport.org.
- Let your constituents know when it’s time to qualify for elections by advertising in the new, local newspaper. (Oh, and thank you Commissioner Fellows-Coffey for writing about your promise to Davenport in the Four Corners Sun. It was well received.)
- Each of you has a web page on the city website. Use it. Add pictures of yourselves at work, and talk about issues that concern your constituents.
- The city has a quarterly newsletter. Take turns writing a couple of paragraphs about something.
- Encourage the registration of high school seniors to vote in Davenport elections, and finally.
- Contact Bradenton and find out what the heck they are doing.
Davenport can do better and will do better if our elected officials, our politicians, communicate all the time instead of just at election time. I hope you will consider this matter for the love of Davenport.
I remember question and answer forums with the candidates prior to elections in the past. Some civic organization, maybe Lion’s Club, would organize and moderate them.
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I attended one of those forums too, when it was organized by the Davenport Historical Society. They were very informative about the candidates, but first … we need to have an election. We haven’t had one since 2019. PS – The commissioners were very receptive to some of my ideas so, maybe, we’ll see improvements in their communication with us, as well as more candidates running each election cycle.