NEWARK -- After more than three decades of holding elections in odd-number years, council members say Newark soon will switch to even years to save money and increase voter turnout.
The move would save the city about $115,000 annually, City Manager John Becker told council members Thursday. Livermore and Emeryville recently made a similar switch, making Newark the last Alameda County city to send voters to the polls in odd-number years, Becker said.
If Newark goes it alone this November, the election would cost $10 to $12 per voter. With 19,197 registered voters, that would make the city's tab between $192,000 to $230,000. But if Newark shares election costs with the county's other cities in June or in November 2014, the estimated cost shrinks to $4 to $6 per voter -- or $77,000 to $115,000.
"That's a large savings for the city," Mayor Alan Nagy said. "That's a big number to pay; you can't ignore it."
Vice Mayor Ana Apodaca said the switch also would boost the city's voting turnout, which was 31 percent in 2011. That is significantly lower than the city's 77 percent turnout in the 2008 presidential election, or the 2012 race, when voting turnout was in the low 70s, Apodaca said. "It's always bothered me that it's a lower turnout, typically, for odd years," she said.
The City Council did not vote on the issue Thursday but is expected to decide next month so the city can submit the change to county supervisors by June 20, the deadline for postponing the city's scheduled November election, Becker said.
Newark has held elections in odd-number years since 1981, City Clerk Sheila Harrington said. Some residents have criticized that move ever since, saying it was made to diminish voter turnout and better allow the re-election of incumbents. Nagy said that is not true, adding that Election Day was moved from April in even-number years to November in odd-number years to align the city with Newark school board elections at the time. (Newark school board elections since have moved to even years.)
"The Newark voter is pretty darn smart and has never been fooled," said Nagy, a council member since 1980. "If you follow the logic (of the critics), then we never would have changed the date. Wouldn't April have had the fewest voters?"
If the switch is approved, terms for the mayor and council members would be extended by a year, Becker said. The terms for Nagy, Apodaca and Councilman Bob Marshall would expire in 2014, instead of 2013, and the terms for Freitas and Councilwoman Suzy Collazo would end in 2016, instead of 2015.
John Hennebery, a frequent City Hall critic, said he supports the switch because it would increase turnout but questioned whether giving elected officials an extra year in office is legal. "It violates basic democratic principles," he said. "It is just something the voters did not allow."
Newark officials such as Becker and Harrington said the city is well within the law, noting that Emeryville recently extended elected officials' terms as they ditched odd-year elections.
In the early 1990s, Fremont did exactly what Newark is proposing -- extending council members' terms while switching election years, former Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison said.
"Pushing it back a year is legal," Morrison said. "We didn't put it to the voters because the cost of a special election negates the cost savings (of making the switch)."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.