Hopkinsville City Council will soon vote for or against nonpartisan city elections; however, some residents are leery about the timing while others believe it will increase voter turnout.
Under the proposed plan, Hopkinsville would transition from partisan to nonpartisan elections while keeping the current ward system. This means every registered voter would be able to vote in the primary election for their ward regardless of the voter’s party affiliation.
The candidates’ party affiliation would not be on the ballot either.
The two candidates with the highest number of votes in each ward would be on the ballot in November, and the citywide vote would determine who would represent each ward.
Currently, Hopkinsville’s primary elections are reserved for registered Democrat and Republican voters and candidates. Then in the November, everyone in the city votes, regardless of wards, for who they want in the position.
So far, it appears councilmembers are on board with discussing the issue and taking a vote on it. After a motion from Councilman Terry Parker on April 23, Hopkinsville Committee of the Whole voted 7 to 4 to forward it to city council.
The next council meeting is Tuesday via Zoom video conference, but the agenda for that meeting has not yet been publicized.
Several local residents have voiced concerns over the past few weeks about why the council is willing to vote on nonpartisan elections while the city is dealing with the worldwide pandemic.
Hopkinsville resident Andra Gold said he doesn’t think the timing is right, and urged the council to not rush a decision on the matter.
“At this time, you have so much going on here in Hopkinsville and worldwide, and to be trying to change our city government at midnight, to try to get all of this passed at such a short period of time, I don’t see the relevance,” Gold said.
Gold wrote a Voice of the People to the Kentucky New Era on May 5 saying the vote should not be rushed and cited several reasons why he didn’t support nonpartisan elections.
Some of those reasons were that nonpartisan elections could suppress minority representation in elected positions and that people could get confused without party affiliation on the ballot.
“I think it’s going to suppress that partisan voter,” Gold said Wednesday. “When you’re talking about party identification, that’s a key way that voters select their candidates. Allowing people not to choose is not fair to the voter.”
Former Hopkinsville Mayor Dan Kemp said in a Voice of the People on April 28 that city local issues and government service needs are not partisan issues.
“There is an old saying that, “there is no such thing as a Republican or Democrat pot hole, it’s just a pot hole,” Kemp wrote.
Councilman Parker said he remembers when Kemp proposed nonpartisan elections during his time as mayor. Parker said former Mayor Carter Hendricks was also wanted nonpartisan elections to be addressed.
Parker said he decided to make the motion in committee last month because nonpartisan elections have always been a hot topic during election season.
“Every election cycle, in our debates, the League of Women Voters always asks us about nonpartisan elections,” he said. “I know we’re in an election cycle now, and I fully expect to get that question again, so let’s have the discussion again on the council floor.”
Hopkinsville League of Women Voters members on both sides of the issue also said the council should discuss it further before taking a vote.
“I don’t understand the rush,” said League member Diane Wood, who is not in favor of nonpartisan elections. “It wouldn’t go into affect until (2022), so it makes you wonder if there is a motive to move it through now.”
Anita Simmons, a League member who supports nonpartisan local elections, said she believes the council should get more community feedback.
“I really think the committee of the whole and the city council needs to wait until you can open (in-person meetings) back up and have thorough communication from the community,” she said. “Right now, you can’t do that.”
At the last regular Committee of the Whole meeting, Chairman Phillip Brooks suggested a subcommittee be formed to further discuss exactly what the city wants for nonpartisan elections. However, the committee moved it forward to council without that provision.
“We formed a committee to look at the tax issue, and there’s really not much a committee could do on this issue,” Parker said Wednesday. “It would be are you for or against it? I think putting a committee together would only be done to squash the vote.”
Uncontested city council candidate Alethea West said she would like to do more research on the matter herself and believes the council should too.
“We are struggling with people with power and influence using their power and influence to move certain projects forward without holistic community thinking,” West said. “A council would want to do everything in their power to make sure all people have a part and will not lose their voice. That’s what’s concerning to me. To make sure citizen voices are not snuffed out. That’s what makes a well balanced community.”