Gainesville to alter election requirements

The Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to change how candidates qualify for municipal races.

Candidates for city offices will have to collect voter signatures to get on the ballot or will have to pay an additional fee under a proposal that passed the commission during its General Policy Committee meeting Thursday afternoon. 

The change to election qualifying requirements will come back to the commission as ordinance for another vote in January.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who made the motion to change the fee structure and add a petition alternative, said he hopes the added fees will push more candidates to choose to collect signatures instead.

“When you have to collect signatures, you have to go and meet the public and talk and campaign to get those signatures,” Hayes-Santos said in a telephone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. “You have to have a seriousness in running for election.”

Currently, the city charges candidates an election assessment fee that is equal to 1 percent of the salary of the office for which they are running. In the most recent special election, candidates for the at-large city commission seat paid $351.18 as a filing fee.

Daniel Nee, the interim city attorney, said the election assessment fee is required under state law, but that candidates can file an affidavit of undue burden and get the election assessment fee waived.

In the special election, only one candidate—Gabe H. Kaimowitz—filed an affidavit of undue burden. The remaining four candidates paid the filing fee.

Under the proposed changes, candidates looking to qualify would need to pay an additional 2 percent of the salary (approximately $700 for a commission seat or $890 to run for mayor) or collect signatures from 1 percent of the voters. 

Candidates for district seats would have to collect signatures from 1 percent of the voters in the district while candidates for mayor or at-large commission seats would have to collect signatures from 1 percent of all registered voters in the city.

Nee said the city’s charter allows the commission to set additional election requirements. Currently, the city only adds a residency requirement to city offices.

With just under 90,000 registered voters in Gainesville, candidates for citywide offices would have to collect around 900 signatures.

The city is divided into four roughly equal-sized districts with around 22,500 voters in them, so candidates for district office would have to collect approximately 225 signatures.

Even if a candidate files an affidavit of undue burden and chooses to collect voter signatures, the process won’t be entirely cost free. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office has to verify signatures on the petitions and has told the city it would charge 30 cents per signature (around $270 for citywide offices and $67 for district-level offices).

As part of the motion, the commission agreed to pay 20 cents per signature and only charge the candidates 10 cents per signature, cutting the cost of a citywide petition collection down to around $90 and a district petition down to $22.

For comparison purposes, Alachua County charges 4 percent of the office’s salary for non-partisan races, and 6 percent for partisan races, which involve a primary. Alternatively, candidates for county offices can submit a petition with the signatures of 1 percent of the voters. 

For the county, the election fees and the petition alternative are set by state law as is the 10-cents-per-signature cost of verification, Nee said. For example, a major party candidate running for the Alachua County Board of Commissioners would need to pay $4,700 in fees or collect 1,905 signatures and pay the Supervisor of Elections $190.50 to verify the signatures.

The city commission split the vote on the motion, first voting 4-1 to add the additional fees and voting 5-0 to add the petition alternative. 

Commissioner David Arreola voted against the 2 percent fee add-on, saying he couldn’t support charging more to run. But once the increased fee passed, he voted for the petition alternative.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker was absent from Thursday’s meeting, and the open at-large commission seat will not be filled until after a January run-off.

The city commission will consider a revised qualifying ordinance at its January regular meetings, in hopes of getting it on the books in time for the 2022 city election cycle.

Commissioner Reina Saco said that if the commission couldn’t get the ordinance passed on second reading by mid-February that they shouldn’t make it a requirement of the 2022 election cycle.

Candidates who have already filed to run for office in 2022 will be informed after the ordinance passes on first reading that new requirements are coming, Hayes-Santos said.

As of Thursday, Donald Shepherd was listed as candidate for mayor, and Patrick Ingle, an unsuccessful candidate in the November at-large race, had filed to run in District 3. Last week, Arreola announced he was running for mayor, but was not yet listed as a candidate on the local election site.

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