A legislative effort at the state level could move future Metro’s election dates to coincide with U.S. presidential elections in November, ending Nashville’s long-standing local voting schedule.
On Wednesday, Republican State Rep. Jim Gotto, who serves a dual role as Metro councilman, added an amendment to a caption bill that would require Tennessee municipalities with populations greater than 500,000 and metropolitan forms of government to adopt the same schedule as presidential elections.
The bill would not affect this August’s Metro election, but would push the 2015 election to November 2016, meaning the next council and Mayor Karl Dean –– if re-elected –– would serve terms that exceed five years.
Historically, Metro has conducted local elections during odd years in August followed by run-offs in September. But that timetable has created headaches during years such as the current one when the city must hastily realign political boundaries using fresh U.S. Census Bureau decennial data in advance of elections.
“Every other census, or every 20 years, we get in the bind that we’re in right now about not being able to get census numbers in a timely matter to redistrict prior to the next local election,” Gotto said.
“There’s all kind of problems,” he added. “If you just wait, like they did the last time [in 1991] and redistrict for the election four years later, what you wind up with is council members that are elected by a district that they no longer represent. If you try to rush the process, then you get into what we’re into this year, where you have people who have already pulled petitions, they’ve already been out campaigning in areas where they may not be eligible to run for now. By moving the election, you eliminate this going forward.”
Other benefits to moving the election date are cost reductions because of the elimination of an extra election, Gotto said, though under his plan there would still be a run-off. He said having local elections in November would also increase voter participation.
Gotto, term-limited from his Donelson-area council seat, said he recognizes only one negative to his plan.
“I don’t think it’s a big enough issue that it’s a problem, but we would have to extend the next term of those folks who get elected this year,” he said. “They would have to have their term extended by about a year and three months.”
The caption bill cleared the House State and Local Government Subcommittee Wednesday. It moves to full committee next week.
Longtime Nashville attorney George Barrett, who helped spur the expedited redistricting process by threatening to sue the city, said he doesn’t think the change is needed.
“It’s not a problem,” Barrett said of the redistricting timeline. “They’ve solved it this year and they solved it in 1970. The only time they didn’t solve it was in 1990. This is like killing a gnat with a cannon.”
Councilman Bo Mitchell said he’s hesitant about holding non-partisan local elections during partisan elections in November.
“Right now, Metro elections are nonpartisan, and then you’re putting them in the midst of partisan elections,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s bad for our city.”
But At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard said the redistricting process creates a bind given Metro’s existing election schedule.
“If he’s trying to correct that problem, I’m all in favor of it,” Tygard said, adding that concerns of merging partisan and nonpartisan elections may be the “lesser of two evils.”
Gotto could accomplish the same end by utilizing his council seat to introduce a Metro Charter amendment, but he said the state amendment is a “much easier way” to navigate the change. He also noted that with a two-third council vote required to amend the charter, some council members might be perceived as voting to extend the lengths of their respective terms.
Metro attorney Doug Sloan said the legal deparment will review the legislation to see how it could affect Metro.