Sarasota voters want single-member districts
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Charter Review Board - Courtesy Sarasota News Leader
OPINION: Sarasota voters want single-member districts
Pat Rounds and Bill Zoller
In November 2018 – in a countywide referendum to amend the county charter – Sarasota County voters approved the election of commissioners by single-member districts by an impressive 60% margin across all five districts.
Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
To get such a mandate requires support from Republicans, Democrats, and No Party Affiliation independents. Voters were clear that they wanted district-level representation and accountability.
Last November three county commissioners were successfully elected by single-member district in Sarasota County. Yet just two weeks later the same county commission began to sow seeds of doubt about district-level representation.
With only three of five commissioners elected by single-member districts – and before allowing voters several election cycles to decide whether they prefer single-member districts to At-Large voting – our commission has intervened and asked the Charter Review Board to review single-member districts.
Here's why this is a bad idea:
Nineteen other Florida counties – both smaller and larger than Sarasota County – currently elect commissioners by single-member district. Like Sarasota, voters in these counties recognize the value of direct representation; it requires a commitment from commissioners to serve the best interests of the entire county.
The Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress are elected by single-member district. Would our county commission suggest that the Legislature convert to At-Large voting, which would allow Miami-Dade County voters to help decide who represents Sarasota County in Tallahassee? Not a chance.
In 2018, 60% of Sarasota County voters endorsed single-member districts. Now – nearly three years after the fact – our commissioners are suddenly citing a few anecdotes about voter confusion with the ballot language? The county commission should post the 2018 single-member district ballot language on the county website. Why? Because it would remind everyone just how clear and concise the language was –and it would remind everyone that voters were not confused when they endorsed single-member districts.
Ironically a current county commissioner previously served in the Florida Senate – and was elected to that seat by single-member district. If election by single-member district was OK back then for this current commissioner, why is it a problem now?
Sarasota County voters deserve accountability from all of their elected officials, and in 2018 the voters spoke clearly on how they want their representatives to be elected. Stoking doubts about our chosen election system does a disservice to Sarasota County's voters. That's why the Charter Review Board should reject any unseemly effort by the Sarasota County commissioners to undo the voters’ will.
Pat Rounds is the past secretary of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. Bill Zoller is the past president of the Council on Neighborhood Associations.