Gainesville sets special election for November

The Gainesville City Commission has set the special election to replace Commissioner Gail Johnson for Nov. 16.

The City Commission approved the election and set aside $200,000 to pay for it during its regular meeting on Thursday.

Johnson, who is also the city’s mayor-pro tem, announced her resignation at a special meeting on Aug. 23, only months after she was elected to a second three-year term. Her resignation will take effect Oct. 1, following her last meeting on Sept. 23.

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The special election was triggered because Johnson’s resignation was more than six months before the next general election.

The $200,000 is an estimated cost for the special election, based on the cost of the city’s two-race March 2021 election. The spring election, which involved races for District I and Johnson’s at-large seat, cost $196,517.

The March 2021 election cost Gainesville approximately $60,000 more than the March 2020 city election. The jump in price was due to costs related to printing ballots in English and Spanish and to increased security measures that are required in handling vote-by-mail ballot boxes.

Kim Barton, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, told the commission Thursday that additional requirements from the state as well as an increase in the minimum wage would mean the special election will cost more. The minimum wage increase affects the cost of the election because it raises the amount of money needed to pay poll workers.

Barton also said she was concerned that the tight time frame would make it more difficult to get ballots to and receive ballots from overseas military members and residents.

“We have men and women serving in the armed forces and I think they should have that 45 days [required in federal elections],” Barton said. “I know the city is not bound to that [45-day rule], but you have to think about how important their vote is as well.”

However, the city charter requires that an election to fill an unexpected vacancy within 60 days, driving the tight time frame, said Daniel Nee, one of the attorneys for the city.

Nee praised Barton and her staff for pulling together the short-notice special election. Among other things, the election staff has to have time to get ballots from their vendors and to mail ballots to voters who request them.

“I suspect in the very near future we might be suggesting to the commission that you put forward a referendum to change our charter to change the way we fill unexpected vacancies,” Nee said.

The city will offer early voting from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12-16 at the Supervisor of Elections Office (515 N. Main Street, Suite 100) and the Millhopper Branch of the Alachua County Library District (3145 NW 43rd St).

Barton said she is in the process of securing polling locations for election day.

The qualifying period for the election will be from noon on Sept. 20 to noon on Sept. 24.

Mail-in ballot drop boxes will be available at the Supervisor of Elections office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during early voting, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 15, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day.

Barton asked the commission to consider making the race a winner-take-all election, in which the person who gets the most votes wins the seat even if the top vote-getter does not amass more than 50 percent of the vote.

The concern for Barton was that a January runoff would mean her staff would have to work through the December holidays.

“We won’t get any time off if there’s a runoff,” she said.

However, the city approved the election with a runoff. If a run-off election is required, it will take place on Jan. 25, 2022.

Mayor Lauren Poe said he didn’t support making the special election winner-take-all without a runoff.

“If we had a ranked choice voting system, we wouldn’t need a runoff,” Poe said. “I think it’s important that whoever wins receives the majority of the vote of the people they are going to serve.”

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