published Friday, May 24th, 2013

Shifting Chattanooga elections could save big bucks


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Chip Henderson wants to save Chattanooga some dollars and cents. One way to do it, he is proposing, is to move city elections from March to the month when federal or state elections are held.

That could mean a savings of $100,000 an election, Henderson said.

"You begin to eat this elephant one bite at a time and you start to save taxpayers money," said Henderson, vice chairman of the Chattanooga City Council.

However, Dr. Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said shifting city elections could lead to voter confusion and greater partisan influence in what have traditionally been nonpartisan elections.

"I think moving it would cause problems," Wilson said.

Henderson is chairman of an ad hoc council committee that is looking at the advantages of moving city elections from March to either the August county general and state primary or November general election. The committee also will evaluate whether there should be more council members representing smaller districts or more council members, with some being at-large representatives.

Henderson, Councilmen Larry Grohn and Jerry Mitchell make up the committee.

The cost to the city of holding an election is about $100,000, Henderson said. Runoff elections, at $10,000 per district, add to the tab.

So, the savings could decrease if runoffs had to be held.

Wilson argued that scheduling elections cannot be just about saving money.

City elections have been held separately because city elders did not want partisan politics to become involved. He said a fear would be a strong Democrat or Republican candidate in the August or November elections would draw more voters and therefore influence whether Democrats or Republicans won the city council seats.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhighto.wer or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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