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TO: FROM: RE:

MAYOR AND COUNCIL MEMBERS DEAN RINDY MAY CITY ELECTIONS ARE BETTER FOR THE CITY

Dear Mayor and Council Members: I have worked in elections in this city for 30 years, as well as serving as a political consultant in municipal, state and federal elections in 25 states. These thoughts are based on that experience. As a Democratic political consultant, I might personally benefit from holding the 2012 city election in November, but to be honest I think that date would be bad for Austin. Democracy in Austin will be far better served by holding our city elections at the regularly scheduled time in May. Any additional expense will be well worth it. A November city election in a Presidential year would be a travesty. Rather than helping democracy, it would subvert it---for several reasons. A quick summary of objections: ---Many voters will regard it as undemocratic and wrong for incumbent office holders to arbitrarily extend their term of office without voter approval, and this could become an issue against any Council Member who votes to do so. ---City issues and candidates would be totally drowned out by national and state campaigns in the summer and fall of 2012. There would be almost no news coverage of city candidates. Advertising would be far more expensive. City candidates messages would be lost in the blizzard of mail and tv ads from better financed state and federal campaigns. Citizen forums, quite important in city elections, would be overwhelmed. ---A November 2012 election would be more of an insiders game, not less. It would hand more power to a small group of political insiders--- the special interest lobbyists who fund campaigns, and the political operatives who influence local Democratic and Republican political endorsements. This is inevitable because the election will become vastly more expensive and vastly more partisan. ---A November 2012 city election would mean less democracy, not more so, in spite of drawing far more voters. The number of voters would be higher; but their chance to be well informed, to hear meaningful public discussion, to consider alternatives, and to participate in a debate about city issues

would be much, much less. ---A November 2012 date would automatically make city campaigns far more expensive, while making it very difficult to recruit and organize grass roots volunteer efforts. City candidates would have to compete for attention with scores of other campaigns at every level, trying to reach a vastly larger Presidential year electorate, while paying for more expensive TV time and sending mailers to thousands of extra voters. Field, mail and TV would all become far more expensive, and potential volunteers would be siphoned off by state and federal races. ---A November election would give incumbents an unfair advantage , even bigger than the one they have now, since it would become vastly more expensive and far more difficult for challengers to become known. A little more explanation: 1. Many voters will think it is wrong to use a mere change in state election schedules as an excuse to arbitrarily extend incumbents terms of office by half a year---in violation of historic practice and the City Charter whose spirit you are sworn to uphold. This can be seen as a subversion of voters rights and the rule of law. In America voters are the only persons entitled to make decisions on how long an incumbent remains in office. It would be surprising if challengers did not make it an issue against any incumbent who voted to extend their own term. Even Rudy Guiliani, at the height of his popularity as Mayor of New York in the months after 9/11, failed when he tried to get an agreement to extend his term an extra three months in order to ease transition in a time of crisis. He failed in the face of wide spread public criticism that called his move an extra legal maneuver. 2. Staging our city election simultaneously with the national election will wipe out any chance for real debate and discussion of city issues. There is a physical limit to how much attention voters and news media can give to politics at one time. By next fall news media and commercial airwaves will be totally dominated by state and national campaigns. Austin airwaves will be saturated with political advertising costing millions of dollars. It will be almost impossible for city candidates to compete for news space or to be noticed amidst the blizzard of competing ads and direct mail at the state and federal level. Think about how hard it is to get news media attention or to pay for TV time for Council races held in May. In November it will be ten times worse and three times more expensive. City candidates will be competing with Presidential, statewide and county politics---all in a highly partisan atmosphere. Challengers will face an almost impossible task against incumbents. 3. The argument has been made that November will be more democratic because more people will be voting. It would be truer to say that more uninformed people will vote, though this would not be the voters fault. It would be the fault of combining too many elections with too many candidates at too many levels at the same time. People are not computers with infinite capacity on their hard drives. They can only take so much input. As a practical matter, it will be impossible for voters who follow the Presidential or state campaigns to become adequately informed about city issues during the national election season. For all the reasons previously mentioned, voters simply will not have sufficient opportunity or time to inform themselves. Further, in partisan elections most voters use the simple shortcut given by party identification and they choose Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Green. But city elections are non-partisan, which makes it far more important to learn about the views and backgrounds of individual candidates. Real democracy depends on informed citizens who have a chance to educate themselves. In the confused frenzy of November, most

voters will hear very little city debate and get very little information on city issues. 4. Some claim that a city election in November, because it draws a larger number of voters, will make it more open and less of an insiders game. On the contrary, a November election would hand more power to an even smaller group of political insiders--- a) the special interest lobbyists who fund campaigns, and b) the political operatives who influence local Democratic and Republican endorsements. This is inevitable because the election will become vastly more expensive and vastly more partisan. The need for extra funding in a race where you have to communicate with thousands of new voters is obvious. Therefore, special interest funders---lobbyists and their commercial clients--- will inevitably loom even larger in importance, as will party operatives who normally dont care about city issues. For a big majority of voters partisanship will be the main point of reference in their decision making, regardless of whether they are voting for a city, state, or federal office. Research shows that partisan identification is the most important predictor of voting. Since the vast majority of November voters cast ballots on a partisan basis, the endorsement of local political party groups will become supremely important. Its always important to get political endorsements, of course, but in a November contest getting on a political slate card could be life or death. Neighborhood, environmental, social groups, business organizations, unions and other community groups who play a role in normal city elections will be blown away by the partisan factor. Council Candidates wlll not be identified by party on the ballot, of course, but everything will depend on getting party endorsements, being included on party slates, and communicating partisanship to the voters. (FYI, any prominent Democratic Party office holder at the state or county level who wanted to jump into a contest for an open city council seat might of course have an advantage in partisan name ID and partisan contacts, whether they had any background in city issues or not. There are a lot of Democratic office holders I could vote for in a city race; but I would prefer that they earn the office in a normal Austin election where they engaged in lengthy public debate on city issues.)

Thank you for your attention, Dean Rindy