A voting advocacy group is recommending that Rockville holds its elections in presidential election years in hopes of getting more people to the polls.
FairVote, a Takoma Park-based nonprofit group that advocates for voting system reform, sent a memo to the Rockville council with recommendations about how to increase voter turnout, according to a news release.
Voter turnout is about 17 percent for city elections and almost 70 percent for presidential elections, according to the 2012 Rockville Charter Review Commission report.
FairVote’s memo recommended moving city elections to even-numbered years and passing legislation to ensure candidates can campaign door-to-door in apartment buildings. It also said Rockville should create a “Right to Vote” task force and support amending the U.S. Constitution to specify that voting is a fundamental right.
Rais Akbar, an attorney with FairVote, said the Rockville memo is part of the organization’s broader effort to encourage greater participation in elections and putting an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. Akbar said Takoma Park and Montgomery County have both already passed resolutions to form Right to Vote task forces.
FairVote also supports moving Rockville’s election to presidential election years, since more people vote in those years than in city election years. The memo also suggests moving to four-year Mayor and Council terms. In 2003, a 64 percent majority of voters in Rockville voted to keep two-year terms, according to the report. Akbar said the answer might be different, however, if more people in Rockville voted on the question.
“The people who would vote on that question are the people who vote in the off-year elections, when the turnout is very low,” he said. “... We don’t really know what the view of the Rockville public is unless we ask all of them rather than the small number who turn out to vote in the off-year elections.”
Some who oppose presidential year elections have expressed concerns that moving the elections could draw too much partisan involvement into Rockville’s government or could make it harder for Rockville’s issues to be heard over the presidential campaign.
Rockville Councilman Tom Moore, who supports moving city elections to presidential election years, said a representative from FairVote wrote to him in July about possibly supporting a Constitutional amendment. While Moore said Rockville doesn’t typically weigh in on potential Constitutional amendments, he thinks a voting task force is a good idea. He also said he saw the draft memo and gave some suggestions, such as clarifying that no one is really calling for combining Rockville’s ballot with the already-crowded state and county ballots.
“No one is considering putting our ballot on that election,” he said.