Dem turnout, bipartisan growth concerns may have saved single-member districts in Sarasota Cty
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Zac Anderson, Herald Tribune 3.9.2022
Higher Democratic voter turnout and bipartisan discontent over growth and development are among the factors that may have contributed to voters retaining single-member County Commission district elections, despite a big push to repeal the system.
Political committees and the Sarasota GOP spent a lot of money on the repeal effort, paying for mailers, voter guides, signs, phone banking, text messages and canvassers.
Voters rejected the effort, with 57% opting to keep single-member districts, similar to the 60% that approved the change from countywide voting on commission races in 2018.
Voter turnout was significantly higher among Sarasota County Democrats than Republicans for Tuesday’s referendum, a likely factor in the referendum failing.
Turnout hit 38% for Democrats, compared to 30% for Republicans.
Democrats generally have been more supportive of retaining single-member districts, which have been pitched as a way to limit the influence of big money and development interests on commission races, but also could help a Democrat win a seat in the heavily Republican county.
District 2, held by Commissioner Christian Ziegler, has 2,068 more Democrats than Republicans under the redistricting plan approved last year.
It wasn’t just Democrats voting against the repeal referendum, though. There were 56,868 votes cast for keeping single-member districts and 39,330 Democrats who voted.
Another 17,015 no party affiliation and minor party voters cast ballots. Even if every Democrat and every NPA/minor party voter supported keeping single-member districts, it still doesn’t add up to the total number of votes against the referendum proposal.
Sarasota County election results: How did Republicans vote on referendum?
Many Republicans also have been supportive of keeping single-member districts. The repeal referendum failed in precincts throughout the county, including in heavily Republican areas in South County.
Every precinct in Englewood and the vast majority of precincts in the Venice area voted against the repeal referendum, despite both communities being strongly Republican.
“Unfortunately, our commissioners are not responsive to residents,” Hutchinson wrote. “They repeatedly approve new development, but without planning for the roads that impact existing neighborhoods.”
By the way:Republicans love single-member districts for other parts of Florida, just not Sarasota
The current commission has riled up residents in communities ranging from Siesta Key to eastern Sarasota County by approving development proposals that many believe are too intense, and some of the loudest critics have been Republicans.
Many county residents believe commissioners are too deferential to developers, and that they will be less likely to approve an unwanted project in their district if they only have to face voters in that district, instead of voters countywide.
The support for single-member districts may be a sign of growing backlash against development, which has been a big issue in Sarasota County for years but one that tends to go in cycles depending on the economy and other factors.
Sarasota GOP leaders seem to be out of touch with this sentiment, with the party going all in to repeal single-member districts.
The failure of the referendum also could be seen as a shot at Ziegler, who fought hard to repeal single-member districts and had a lot at stake in the outcome of the vote.
A polarizing figure who serves as vice chair of the Florida GOP, Ziegler is one of the most deeply partisan individuals to serve on the commission in recent years, making him a target of critics. While Ziegler has opposed some development proposals, his high-profile partisan position may have made him a target.
One of the most immediate consequence of the referendum’s failure is that Ziegler’s political future is now in doubt.
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org