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County Charter Review Commission votes to eliminate single-member district proposal from further consideration

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

In spite of the fact that almost 25% of the suggestions made to the Alachua County Charter Review Commission proposed some form of single-member districts, and in spite of the fact that over 80% of the citizens who showed up at tonight’s meeting to comment were in favor of single-member districts, the commission voted to eliminate the proposal from further consideration.

Alachua County’s commission is currently elected at-large; there are 5 districts, and commissioners must live in their district, but everyone in the county votes for the commissioners.

Commission Member Joe Little initially made the motion to move the proposal forward, but Kristen Young immediately substituted a motion to do the opposite. After some discussion, the commission decided to vote on the motion to eliminate the proposal from consideration, rather than the original motion.

Several people, including members of the Charter Review Commission, argued that single-member districts are a form of voter suppression; the argument is that it is better to vote for five commissioners (and have five commissioners accountable to you) than to just vote for one.

A large group of people showed up to argue for single-member districts, pointing out that city commissioners are a mix of single-district and at-large, that both our state and federal governments have single-member districts, and that not bringing this to the voters was itself voter suppression, especially given the amount of public interest in the topic.

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Only two members of the commission, Eric Drummond, and Kali Blount, voted to move the proposal forward. Drummond said, “People care about this.” He pointed out that far more people showed up for this issue than any past meeting of the commission. Drummond said that if the proposal was removed from consideration, he would leave because the other proposals were unimportant. After the break, his seat was empty.

Term limits were also removed from consideration.

  • I charge that the Charter Commission’s denying the proposals of single district representation amounts to voter suppression and political machinery. Rural and conservative voters are being denied proper representation on the County Commission by the current at large election system. A highly concentrated group of liberal voters live in and around the heart of Gainesville, and they are exerting a disproportionate influence on county wide issues through the at large vote. The Electoral College was devised to prevent this same effect on the national level, whereas highly concentrated urban voters would overpower rural and lesser urbanized voters for presidential elections. The voters have sufficiently voiced their concerns with this issue, but their concerns have been squashed by the very people chosen to serve them. This is not democracy, as only a small percentage of voters are being represented while they deny representation of the remaining county population. At the very least this smacks of voter suppression and at the most amounts to outright corruption of the democratic process. This problem cannot be fixed though conventional methods, as those avenues have been blocked by political machinery. There must be some other method to get the single member district initiative on the ballot, or perhaps an intercession by the courts or state legislature may be required.

  • Single member districts are a bad idea. Where proposed, they are not done for “better government.” They are usually proposed by a minority group who want to carve out a district where they are the majority, to enable them to elect a legislator.

    This will not make a better government. Many complain the Alachua County Commission has too many Democrats. What proponents of SMD fail to say is if it is enacted, it will only work if the Commission districts are redrawn. The fifth County Commission district would need to be a “donut” district surrounding Gainesville, consisting of the rural areas around the perimeter of the county..

    The proponents off SMD are not honest enough to admit this is a Republican agenda item to gerrymander a rural, presumably conservative, Republican MAGA district. Gerrymandering is undemocratic. Note the admission that Republican Drummond quit the CRC after this one amendment was not passed. Thank you Mr. Drummond for giving away the Republican playbook.

    If SMD are created, this will not improve County government. With the rural areas split off, the other four Commissioners are elected by the residents in the Gainesville urban core. If every County Commission vote is 4-1, the Gainesville residents still have their way, and the Rural Rep is on the losing end of every vote cast, getting nothing extra for their district.

    The single Rural Republican Rep will not be able to “represent” their district’s residents into a better place. Currently rural residents vote for all five Commission seats, giving them more representation than single member districts would. The “we don’t have representation” whine is just empty rhetoric.

    The CRC correctly turned down SMD because SMD are a Republican gerrymandering plot and not an improvement for Alachua County.

  • Mr. Callari writes “There must be some other method to get the single member district initiative on the ballot”

    Actually there are TWO other methods besides the CRC. Citizens can do it by Petition. The County Commission can do it in any general election.

    Have you attended a County Commission meeting and asked them to put single member districts on the ballot?

    The Alachua County Charter:

    “Sec. 4.2. – Home rule charter amendments.

    (A) Amendments proposed by petition.

    (1) Amendments to the home rule charter may be proposed by petition signed by a number of electors equal to at least ten (10) percent of the number of electors qualified to vote in the county as a whole in the last preceding general election. Each such proposed amendment shall embrace but one (1) subject and matter directly connected therewith. Each charter amendment proposed by petition shall be placed on the ballot by resolution of the board of county commissioners for the general election occurring in excess of ninety (90) days from the certification by the supervisor of elections that the requisite number of signatures has been verified.
    (2) The sponsor of a petition amendment shall, prior to obtaining any signatures, submit the text of the proposed amendment to the supervisor of elections, with the form on which the signatures will be affixed, and shall obtain the approval of the supervisor of elections of such form. The style and requirements of such form shall be specified by ordinance. The beginning date of any petition drive shall commence upon the date of approval by the supervisor of elections of the form on which signatures will be affixed, and said drive shall terminate one hundred eighty (180) days after the date. In the event sufficient signatures are not acquired during that one hundred eighty (180) day period, the petition initiative shall be rendered null and void and none of the signatures may be carried over onto another identical or similar petition. The sponsor shall submit signed and dated forms to the supervisor of elections and upon submission pay all fees as required by general law. The supervisor of elections shall within forty-five (45) days verify the signatures thereon.
    (3) If approved by a majority of those electors voting on the amendment at the general election, the amendment shall become effective on the date specified in the amendment, or, if not so specified, on January 1 of the succeeding year.

    (B) Amendments and revisions by charter review commission. (deleted for brevity)

    (C) Amendments proposed by the board of county commissioners.

    (1) Amendments to this home rule charter may be proposed by ordinance adopted by the board of county commissioners by an affirmative vote of a majority plus one (1) of the membership of the board of county commissioners. Each proposed amendment shall embrace but one (1) subject and matter directly connected therewith. Each proposed amendment shall only become effective upon approval by a majority of the electors of Alachua County voting in a referendum at the next general election. The board of county commissioners shall give public notice of such referendum election at least ninety (90) days prior to the general election referendum date.
    (2) If approved by a majority of those electors voting on the amendment at the general election, the amendment shall become effective on the date specified in the amendment, or, if not so specified, on January 1 of the succeeding year.”

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