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Port Royal elections will shift to every other November if the Town Council approves an ordinance tonight that could encourage stronger voter turnout and possibly allow for lower election costs.'
The ordinance, which is up for a second reading at today's 7 p.m. Town Council meeting, also would require residents to pay a candidacy fee to run for office as opposed to having a nomination petition signed by 5 percent of registered voters.'
Beaufort County Elections Director Agnes Garvin said the switch from May of every odd year to November could increase turnout because voters are used to voting in November. She also said having municipal elections in odd years could increase interest in them since even-year elections focus on federal and state offices.'
"Folks will know if it's an odd year it's municipal, and if it's an even year it's your federal and state elections," Garvin said.'
Port Royal Town Councilman Joe Lee agreed, saying that in even years, municipal office candidates would be at the bottom of the ballot, possibly discouraging people from casting a thoughtful vote or a vote at all.'
In an April special election that put Lee in office, 293 of the town's 3,586 registered voters, or about 8 percent, cast ballots.'
The change in candidacy filing requirements may encourage more residents to run in elections, however. The switch would follow a State Election Commission recommendation that there be a fee to file that is 1 percent of the salary for the position being sought. Lee said he expected the fee in Port Royal to be $150 to run for mayor and $100 to run for the Town Council.'
A fee system would allow possible candidates to avoid going door to door asking for signatures and eliminates the process of verifying those signatures.'
Although Lee, Councilman Henry Robinson and Mayor Sam Murray are up for re-election in May, if the Town Council passes the ordinance tonight, the three will have the opportunity to run in November 2007, adding six months to their terms. Port Royal officials serve staggered four-year terms.'
Elections cost taxpayers about $10,000, Town Clerk Tanya Payne said, adding that she expects holding elections in November would save money because the cost could be shared among county and municipal governments. But Garvin said that may not be true.'
The City of Beaufort operates on an even-year election schedule, and if it doesn't change to odd years as well, costs obviously can't be shared. Hilton Head Island is in the process of moving from odd-year November elections to even years, and Bluffton this year changed from elections in December in even-numbered years to elections in November in odd-numbered years.'
Garvin recommended that all municipalities change to odd-year schedules, though she said it's difficult to predict how the change would impact turnout.'
About 28 percent of Port Royal residents registered voted in the May 2003 election for Town Council. The 2005 election was canceled when no one filed to run against incumbents Mary Beth Heyward and Vernon DeLoach.