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Eliminating July election saves money, increases input

Sec. of State Jay Dardenne has the right idea in wanting to eliminate the July election date for Louisiana local governments. Cost savings relatively would be small but the greater impact would come from increased participation and representative government.

Currently, R.S. 18:402 allows for four election dates, March/April, July, October, and November (and in Orleans Parish, a fifth in February). Until last year there was an additional one in January, but that was done away with and the logic justifying that still applies.

Dardenne noted to a legislative panel that the most recent July election got less than 5 percent of the state’s registered voters out (although statistics show it actually was almost 6 percent), and occurred in fewer than half of the state’s parishes. If lower than usual, that is not atypical: in the past several, figures (going backwards were) 10.6, 11.7, 9.5, 11.1, 8.9, 10.8, 11.2, and 11.2 percent, or anywhere from three to four times lower than the typical fall election dates’. Each costs the state a minimum of around a half million dollars a shot.

Dardenne’s point is that the money can be saved by scheduling such an election, almost always for tax issues, either three months early or later. Opponents as in the case of the January elimination have squawked that fewer election dates creates less democracy, but is curtailing options that make a difference of three months really that critical of a reduction of choice? Further, if an emergency situation comes up where the need for money truly cannot wait, the law provides a relatively easy process to have a special election, with concurrence of two-thirds of the State Bond Commission.

But it’s the actual motivation for trying to keep the date, not this publicly-articulated one, which stirs opposition to its abolishment – local governments often use this date, as they did the January one, to try to get tax renewals and new taxes passed. Typically since the tax is dedicated to a certain constituency – such as government employee salaries – that constituency will vote in heavy numbers positively for the tax while only a small portion of those much larger numbers who get no direct benefit from the measure but who are only slightly negatively impacted will turn out.

Governing authorities hope the high turnout rate of the smaller constituency that gets direct benefits will more than offset the very low turnout of the much larger mostly unaffected populace which as a whole may well vote against the item. Having to put such things on a ballot shared with state or other local elections that will get many times more people to the polls probably increases their chances of losing, or at least will require greater efforts at justification and more compelling persuasion to get them passed.

There’s no good reason why these kinds of propositions should be shunted to low-stimulus election dates that unnecessarily spend taxpayer dollars. And even with wiping away the July date there still will be the spring date which have turnout rates similar to those of the summer date. Cost savings alone justify this elimination; the benefits to increasing citizen input on these matters are lagniappe.

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