David Straz wasn’t the only loser in Tampa’s runoff elections Tuesday. As polls predicted, the mayoral hopeful lost in the top two runoff to Jane Castor by a decisive 50 percentage points.
Castor, a former police chief, clinched the position as the city’s top leader, becoming the first openly gay mayor in Tampa’s history. Yet her success in rising above a field of six other (all male) candidates in the general election, then handily defeating an opponent who far outspent her using primarily his own funds comes at a cost to city taxpayers - literally.
For though Castor also surpassed Straz in the general election, she still fell shy of the majority requirement to win the mayoral post outright. And thus, the campaign season continued for another seven weeks til the runoff, forcing the city and its voters to shell out the funds for another election - one which saw only slightly better turnout than the earlier contest in March.
Meanwhile, negative attack ads amped up, while many of the anticipated public debates lacked the competition needed to inform voters.
While Castor, and her supporters celebrated a historic victory on Tuesday night, the question remains: what if it could have happened seven weeks ago in a single, ‘instant’ runoff?
Ranked choice voting would likely have produced the same results, perhaps by an even more decisive margin, while saving the expense and ardor of a prolonged campaign season.
The same ‘what if’ lingers in the minds of Sarasota voters, so much so that a proposal to eliminate runoffs using ranked choice voting passed by 77 percent in 2007 - though the city is still awaiting its implementation.
But as Sarasota reformers pledge anew their commitment to a more effective and cost-efficient voting system - with voting machine updates eliminating at least one barrier to its use - Tampa would do well to consider signing on for the sake of its voters, and their wallets.