This fall, Orange County voters will have the opportunity to bring more transparency to our local elections by making all county races provide basic party labels. The Orlando Sentinel published a My Word column on Aug. 31 that opposed this obvious move toward transparency. The column, in effect, argued voters should be denied basic and useful information in the voting booth.
Betsy Vanderley’s position is one that defies most respected research. For instance, a National League of Cities study found that “the absence of party labels confuses voters,” and forces them to “choose from among a group of candidates [for] whom he/she knows nothing about.”
Opponents of more transparency attempt to compare it to the rancor in Washington. However, Orange County races are positioned much lower on ballots, and receive less money to promote candidates than candidates for national offices, which are placed at the top of ballots. This lower-ballot position means thousands of voters choose not to vote, or they select candidates based on little or no information. Many just pick a recognizable name. So it makes sense that races such as the County Commission should carry more information to avoid confusion and encourage voting.
Opponents of transparency instead want to continue their power grab in Orange County, leaving voter-information efforts at the mercy of special-interest-funded campaigns. With 50,000 petition signatures gathered to place this transparency referendum on the ballot, the citizens have spoken. Yet it took only four votes from our county politicians to put thinly veiled competing referendums on the ballot that, if approved, would curb our First Amendment rights to petition our government at the cost of making it more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard.
The other important effect of this citizen-initiated amendment is that County Commission elections would be moved to the general election in November, when voter participation is at its highest. In contrast, August primaries historically see turnouts below 20 percent, due to many factors including that parents are focused on getting their kids back to school, and no-party-affiliation voters are not engaged in the other races on the ballot as a result of the closed primary system in our state.
Sean Ashby is the chairman of Citizens for Informed Elections political-action committee.