5 years later, city to vote again on long gap in election schedule

February 10, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Call it deja vote.

The City Council approved last night placing a referendum on November's ballot that will ask city voters to return city elections to the schedule they voted to abandon in 1999.

The council approved the ordinance by a 13-5 vote, with one member, Lois A. Garey, absent. Dissenters said they want to give state lawmakers more time to address the 14-month gap between the city's primary and general elections, which the 1999 vote created.

Until last year, city elections were traditionally held quadrennially in odd-numbered years, with party primaries in September and general elections in November.

In 1999, voters approved a ballot initiative that sought to schedule city elections in even-numbered, presidential election years to eliminate costs of standalone local elections and increase voter turnout.

But only state lawmakers can reschedule primaries.

Therefore, the 1999 referendum moved the general election to November 2004 but left the primary on the old schedule of September 2003. The gap created possibly the longest lame-duck term in the nation. Last year, state lawmakers and city officials failed to find a solution.

Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector introduced a bill late last year to amend the city's charter and return elections to their old schedule. A charter change requires voter approval.

Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said the council cannot wait for the state's help.

"If we haven't gotten it fixed in the last four years there's nothing to suggest this [General Assembly] session is going to be any different," she said.

Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said returning elections to odd-numbered years would entail costs the city cannot afford.

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