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Single-member districts worth considering

Alachua County residents have a once-a-decade opportunity to amend the county charter. The county’s Charter Review Commission is considering charter amendments to possibly appear on the November ballot, with its next meeting being held today. On a website where residents can offer suggestions (http://bit.ly/alachuachartersuggestions), some people are taking the exercise more seriously than others.

One resident called for an amendment banning college students from voting in local elections — a legally and ethically dubious proposition.

Another person suggested that the name of Alachua County be changed to Bourgeois County because it is “filled with snobby liberal snowflakes.” Ha-ha.

Perhaps these recommendations reflect the frustration that conservative residents of our county, particularly those from more rural areas, have with the liberal population of Gainesville controlling the local decision-making process.

Several residents have proposed a charter amendment to address this issue that should be taken more seriously: establishing single-member districts for Alachua County commissioners.

Currently, county commissioners are elected by a county-wide vote — even though they technically represent specific districts, which split the county into five sections.

That has made it more likely that residents of liberal Gainesville, by far the county’s largest population center, have a greater influence in electing commissioners than residents of surrounding rural areas and smaller municipalities.

For years, some residents have sought to create singlemember districts to help address this issue. The County Commission voted against putting the idea on the ballot in 2014.

The Sun supported the commission’s decision at the time, but we’ve had a change of heart. Having a county in which large sections of residents feel unrepresented causes alienation and polarization.

Having single-member districts would help ensure the people living in these districts — whether they are rural residents or residents of Gainesville’s minority neighborhoods — have a greater say in electing a commissioner that represents their interests. It would also give the commissioner that they elect a powerful incentive to be responsive to their needs.

As Marlon Bruce wrote on the website, “As it stands someone running for District 1 could easily lose a majority of the District 1 votes, win an overwhelming majority in every other district and end up representing District 1.”

Or, as Len Cabrera put it, “By restricting district elections to residents who actually live in the districts, commissioners will be more likely to represent the people in their district, rather than the county majority view.”

Districts would need to be split as evenly as possible by population, so residents of the county’s rural areas and smaller municipalities might have to be put in one district to ensure they are the majority there. Having at least one member from a different political party might benefit the decision-making process, preventing the kind of ideological group-think that prevents hard questions from being raised.

The Charter Review Commission should take the idea more seriously than some have treated the website soliciting suggestions, showing rural residents that they are more respected than the way some act toward people living in Gainesville.

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