Winter Park hasn’t seen a primary election since the year 2000, and the city is asking voters to make it the last.
Voters will have a chance to change the city charter during the March 14 general election, eliminating primary elections in Winter Park and instead replacing them with run-off elections that would take place after the general election in April.
A primary election takes place whenever more than two candidates run for a seat. That last happened in 2000 when Mayor Joe Terranova, City Commissioner Roland “Terry” Hotard and City Commissioner Kenneth “Kip” Marchman all ran for Mayor of Winter Park. Hotard would capture the seat with more than 50 percent of the vote.
Under the new charter amendment, all three or more candidates would simply square off in the general election. If no candidate captured more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election would be held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes.
City Manager Randy Knight explained that this charter amendment helps the city by not forcing staff to scramble to send out ballots once qualifying ends if there were three candidates running for a seat.
“It’s been this way in our charter for many, many years,” said Knight, adding that the provision for primary elections could date as far back as 1981, if not much older.
“Within a month of qualifying ending, you have to hold this primary election. It makes it very challenging to get the ballots printed and early voting ballots out in a timely fashion so people can get them returned.”
The charter amendment has the potential to save the city money as well, he said. Today, if two seats were open during an election and three candidates ran for one seat and two ran for the other, Winter Park would be forced to hold both a primary and a general election. If a candidate won the primary election with more than 50 percent of the votes, that could have all been handled during a general election anyway, Knight said.
“Under this new provision, you wouldn’t even have to have the run off because somebody got more than 50 percent of the vote in the general,” Knight said. “It could save not having an extra race in those years where there are three candidates in one of the races.”
Costs to the city during an election come in the form of sending out ballots, paying poll workers and paying the supervisor of elections to run the ballots.
An average election costs the city $30,000, Knight said.
Winter Park is the only city in Orange County that still has primary elections in its charter, a provision the city requested to hold on to back in the 90s when the Orange County general election date was first set to the second Tuesday in March, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.
He added that the change would be nothing but positive for the city.
“There’s no downside,” Cowles said. “It’s putting the city of Winter Park in line with how the other cities do it. We’re removing an election that hasn’t happened since 2000.”
Winter Park residents will also have a chance to elect their next City Commissioner for Seat 1 on March 14, choosing between incumbent Greg Seidel and challenger Wes Naylor.