Voters in St. Petersburg will choose a new mayor and representatives for four city council seats this August, but if none of the candidates in those races receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters in each of those individual contests will compete again in November.

What You Need To Know

  • Council voted earlier this month to explore the idea of having future candidates win office with a majority of the vote

  • Idea has supporters and opponents on the Council

  • The final decision will be up to the voters

  • More Politics headlines

The city of Tampa has a similar runoff system for their municipal elections, but the city of Clearwater does not. Not yet anyhow.

The Clearwater City Council voted earlier this month to explore the idea of having future candidates win office with a majority of the vote – not a plurality, as is currently the case.

“I think Clearwater deserves, and the people of Clearwater deserve to have people sitting here that ultimately can get the confidence – the vote of confidence - of 50 percent plus one of the electorate,” council member Hoyt Hamilton said at the council’s March 18 meeting. 

Mayor Frank Hibbard says that every candidate has a platform that they run on, and a “litmus test” for its popularity is the number of votes they garner.

“It’s very helpful as a leader to have a mandate from your citizens saying, ‘we’re buying into your vision for the future of our city. Please go and execute the plan that you put forth while you were running,’” he said Tuesday.

Hibbard joined Councilman Hoyt and Councilman David Albritton in advancing the concept forward by voting to invite Scott Paine, the director of Leadership Development and Education at the Florida League of Cities, to come address the council in April about the options that they may consider.

Opposing the proposal was Council members Mark Bunker and Kathleen Beckman, both of whom won their seats last year by winning with less than 50 percent of the vote.

“I ran on a platform of resident engagement and more diversity and I think by switching to a majority rule you limit the diversity of candidates that would run,” Beckman told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Tuesday. “I think it will become even more about money…and I think that those with more money will have an easier time, especially if they have to have a run-off and do a quick turnaround.”

Bunker also opposes the idea, saying that if he was in a runoff election last year “people who had raised multiple times what I raised would have had an advantage,” he said at the council meeting. “It’s one year later. I just paid off all my credit card debt from the campaign.”

Hibbard says that he’s open to the idea of changing the election system to having candidates ultimately get a majority of the vote, but his preferred method of election reform would be supporting a ranked choice voting that allows voters to select their favorite candidates in order which avoids a runoff election.

Beckman says that if the council wants to truly look into making the body more democratic, they should investigate conducting single-district elections – a system that is used in Tampa, St. Petersburg and many other local municipalities and county governments. 

“Government is best that’s closest to its constituents,” she says. “I think it certainly should be considered in tandem with any other major election change.”

Mayor Hibbard says that there are downsides to moving to a runoff system. It will cost the city (and candidates) more money to run in both a primary and general election, and he thinks that could require moving elections that are currently held in March to August and November, where it will be competing with many other elections.

“It’s harder to get the exposure so citizens get information and figure out who they want to support,” he says, acknowledging that there would likely be greater voter turnout in the fall (Tampa holds their primary and general municipal elections in the spring; St. Petersburg used to but changed it to the fall in the early aughts). 

The final decision will be up to the voters. If the majority of the council supports the idea, they would place a referendum on the March 2022 ballot.