You step into your designated polling place with the proud determination to perform your civic duty and exercise that greatest of American rights – casting your ballot in an election. You are confident that your vote, and the multitude of others cast, will fairly elect a representative to be your voice in the county district in which you reside.
You might be wrong if you live in Lee County, FL.
Decades ago, around the time the civil and voting rights acts were made law, it was determined that Lee County Commissioner elections would be changed from “Single-Member-Districts” to the “Voting-at-Large” system. In simple terms, what this meant is that someone voting in another district, miles away, could cast the determining vote on whom would represent your district. This was made possible since a ballot allowed a vote to be cast in every (5) district, not just the voter’s district of residence. I’m sure you’re sitting there shaking your head saying, “That’s just not possible.” Unfortunately, in the case of Lee County, it is.
According to Lee County Charter Review studies this is in fact what has occurred in 13 of 30 elections studied. Voting-at-Large allowed the district’s choice to be changed by the overflow vote of another district. Picture this – John Doe and Jane Smith are running in the election for District A Commissioner. Jane Smith has 200 more votes cast by the district’s residents. She’s the new Commissioner for District A! Not necessarily. John Doe has garnered 500 votes from outside the district (combined votes from districts B,C, D and E) as compared to the 100 Jane received. Now John wins. Is this truly representative of what the voters have decided in their district? When it comes time to vote on issues that affect his district, do you think John Doe will remain accountable to the people of the district or to the folks that live miles away but cast a vote for him? In a perfect world you would hope that John does the right thing. However, we know that politics is far from perfect…and involves a lot of money.
Let’s talk about the money. If John Doe and Jane Smith were able to limit their campaigns to a single district, the costs would run approximately $35,000. This includes media, printing, office supplies, yard signs, mailings, gas etc. Since they must run a county-widecampaign the current estimated costs now escalate close to $200,000. Either John and Jane have to have very deep pockets or know quite a few friends county-wide that do! (Note: remember those votes from outside the district) This is the reason Tom Jones, without a doubt the best candidate for the job, never made it to the ballot. The cost was too high.
It’s time Lee County changed back from the flawed “Voting-at-Large” system to Five (5) Single-Member Districts. In 2008, this change was recommended by the Lee County Charter Review Commission by a 9-6 vote. Single-Member Districts were vastly supported at public hearings and by the ACLU, NAACP and LWV.
Justice and fairness are not being served by the current system. While we vote, we do not necessarily elect. If the value of one vote is somehow discounted, democracy is lost.
Only Single-Member District voting insures that every vote will count!