Okaloosa County’s supervisor of elections, Paul Lux, spoke at the Charter Review Committee meeting on Thursday night about the legal procedures for placing referenda on the city’s ballots after a mishap in 2012 when the city failed to publicly announce a meeting to discuss the ordinances.
He said that there were two meetings to discuss the ordinances – referenda are created by ordinance – and the first meeting was announced to the public, but the second, he said, was rescheduled without properly informing residents, which is a violation of election law. “For meeting number two they publicly noticed it and then moved the date to another day without noticing the public,” he said.
In a presentation that took about an hour, Lux reviewed the limitations on referenda and explained different municipal forms of government – noting that commissions are popular in cities with less than 100,000 people. He also discussed how ballots can be distributed to the public in order to get higher response rates, using a recent Alabama Auburn Water Board election as an example, when roughly 11 percent of voters responded to a mailed ballot; that is, 663 out of 6,000 ballots were mailed back to the city with responses.
He also discussed the complaints that Crestview residents had about understanding referenda when they are presented in ballot materials prior to and during the voting process. “What oftentimes happens,” he explained. “Is that when they cannot see the full scope of the full thing that has been changing, then they vote no.”
“If you have a good voter education effort by sending out voter information they might understand the information,” said Lux.
If the committee wants to get a higher response rate, Lux suggested not changing the verbiage of the referenda – limited to 75 words – too much. “What has plagued Crestview in the past, is that they do a bunch of changes and they are limited to 75 words and when people cannot see what has been changed, they are more likely to say ‘no’ then ‘yes,’” said Lux.
At the conclusion of the presentation Ellis Conner, the committee’s chairman said, “You went into the forms of government better than they have been provided to us."”