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Oppose the effort to drop single-member districts

Your Turn Guest Editorial Herald Tribune 1.21.22

Kindra Muntz Guest columnist

Well, they’ve finally done it.

The Sarasota County commissioners have inserted an extra item onto the March 8 ballot for the school district’s 1-mill referendum renewal election: their own Sarasota County charter amendment to overturn single-member districts for electing commissioners – and change county commission elections back to countywide voting.

In 2018 voters in Sarasota County voted overwhelmingly to change to single-member districts. And they did so with good reason: Sarasota is now the 15th-largest county among Florida’s 67 counties. It takes big money to run countywide, and only candidates who are well-funded by special interests can win.

As a result commissioners who are elected countywide will often stop listening to voters once they are in office. That’s because big-moneyed interests usually donate thousands of dollars to candidates in countywide races, and the candidates usually respond by prioritizing private interests over those of the public.

The Sarasota County commissioners are so intent on overturning single-member districts that they couldn’t even wait until November to get full voter participation on this issue. Instead they seized an opportunity to change the system in a low-turnout special election. And they would be happy to achieve their goal on March 8, when just as few as 35,000 voters could overturn the will of the nearly 116,000 voters who approved single- member districts in November 2018.

Apparently the commissioners don’t care if the few overrule the many. That’s not democracy.

The commissioners couldn’t even submit their county charter referendum to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections until Jan.10 because a special election must be held within 60 days of filing. Isn’t it odd that they chose this way to overrule the wishes of the voters? Could they be trying to catch voters off guard?

Please, think before you vote March 8. And, please, be sure to vote.

Single-member districts for electing county commissioners give you direct representation – and they give you more accountability from the commissioner in your district.

In 2020 three of the five county commission districts elected their commissioners through single-member district voting. Qualified challengers ran in Districts 1, 3 and 5 – and voters turned out in force.

The competition was inspiring for the voters and good for the county.

In addition many people who once had reservations about single-member district voting are now supporting it. North Port City Commissioner Jill Luke, for example, recently stated that while she was initially skeptical about single-member district voting, she now believes this is the right way to hold elections in our county.

It’s too late to persuade the commissioners to cancel their referendum. But if you receive campaign literature that opposes single-member districts, don’t be fooled.

Vote 'No' on the commissioners’ charter amendment proposal on the March 8 ballot. Your power is in electing your own county commissioner, and that’s why we must save single-member districts.

It’s about your district, your vote and your power.

Kindra Muntz is president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections.

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