OPINION: Single-member districts must remain in Sarasota County
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
If you’re searching for a good working definition for “arrogance,” look no further than the stubborn effort by the Sarasota County Commission to find some way – any way – to disregard the clear will of citizens and change the county’s current model of electing commissioners through single-member districts.
And on Tuesday the board of commissioners will conduct their latest exercise in mule-headed arrogance when they discuss whether to place a proposal on the March 2022 ballot that calls for amending the county charter and dropping single-member districts in favor of an at-large system.
So here's what should happen on Tuesday:
Sarasota County citizens who have grown understandably tired of being challenged on their preference for single-member districts – a clear consensus that includes a 2018 vote on individual districts that won 60% voter support – should show up and tell the commissioners to abandon the March 2022 election proposal.
If the commissioners dismiss that wise advice and remain dead-set on holding the special election, citizens should get to work immediately to make sure this ill-considered proposal is soundly rejected next spring.
Beyond the sheer gall and horrible optics of elected officials blatantly ignoring the straightforward wishes of the citizens who actually provide the power they possess, there at least two persuasive reasons why the single-member district model for Sarasota County’s five commission seats should remain intact:
1. At-large districts make it harder for credible candidates who lack extensive political funding to run competitive campaigns.
It’s beyond debate that lightly funded candidates who could run viable races in smaller single-member districts will suddenly face huge disadvantages if forced to pursue votes from all across Sarasota County – a sprawling area that covers 725 square miles, according the county’s official data.
It's little wonder then why the voter advocacy group Nonprofit VOTE calls at-large districts “the oldest trick in the book” – and wryly notes that if you “want to rig a local election, there’s an easier way than stuffing a ballot box . . . (Just) have your city or county adopt ‘winner-take-all’ At-Large voting.” 2. At-large voting increases the likelihood that the concerns of some Sarasota County citizens will be overlooked or given short shrift.
Smaller, tightly defined single-member districts make it harder for Sarasota County commissioners to ignore any sections within their representative areas – and much easier for all county constituents to make sure their voices are heard.
Will that be the case under an at-large model in Sarasota County?
That's iffy: According to the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, which documents election procedures in America and more than 200 other countries and territories, single-member districts continue to be embraced as a voting model because they “provide voters with strong constituency representation” and “ensure geographic representation.”\
In the end, however, the most compelling reason why Sarasota County should retain single-member districts is the simplest one: It’s what the citizens of Sarasota County clearly want. What is it about respecting that simple desire that the Sarasota County commissioners are finding so difficult to simply respect?
Comments: Sarasota has a Charter that begins with "We the People...of Sarasota County". But our County Commission has opposed virtually every citizen-initiated amendment placed on the ballot. Despite their opposition, all of these referenda passed by large margins--Paper ballots(2006), Sensible Growth (2007), Open Beach Road (2018), Single-Member Districts (2018). Term limits for Commissioners may also have been a citizen-initiated referendum. Yet those we elect to serve our interests think they can tell us what we want. Frustrated by community support for Single-Member Districts, one Commissioner recently said the following: "....I'm getting tired of trying to save people from themselves." Really? Thank you, SHT, for this well reasoned editorial. The voters of Sarasota County spoke loudly in 2018 in favor of single member districts, so it is not just arrogant of county commissioners to seek to overturn our wishes, it is also a clear indicator that they don't work in our best interests whatsoever; only on their own greed for money and power. Not one of them deserves to be re-elected, so it is incumbant upon us to, in future, only elect those who will best represent us, in each of our districts, from here on in.