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Single-member districts would make voters lose

Published Oct. 18, 2005

If Hernando County had a population of 1-million people, dividing the county into individual districts to elect School Board and County Commission members might make sense. After all, it would be difficult for a School Board member or commissioner to have time to listen to the concerns of 1-million people on a regular basis. Besides, it would be nigh impossible for someone with a modest campaign budget to reach every voter. But Hernando County doesn't have 1-million people. It has fewer than 100,000. The county still is small enough for a candidate to be able to listen to those with concerns. And anyone with a paint bucket, a few sheets of plywood, a bank of friends with telephones and a good political platform can conduct a grass-roots campaign and get elected.

More important, the main impetus for the single-member district drive _ to thwart the election of officials who repeatedly acquiesce to the old-line powers-that-be _ went by the wayside in the primary election when the "insider" candidates were voted down.

Now voters are left to ponder the actual consequences of single-member districts. Will they produce what the backers say they want?

We believe that the losses outweigh any perceived gains, and we strongly recommend that voters say "no" on Nov. 6 to single-member districts for both county commission and school board.

Under the proposed plan, the big losers would be the individual voters. Voters now choose all five commissioners and School Board members. Under single-member status, voters could choose only one member to each _ a loss of 80 percent of voting power.

Officials who kept their little fiefdom's voters happy would stay in office, no matter how much the other 80 percent of the county wanted them out. This sets up all kinds of destructive possibilities. A county commissioner, for example, could insist that his or her district get an equal share of road-building money even if the need is far greater in another section of the county at that time. A School Board member might destroy a redistricting plan that would better distribute the student population to curry favor with voters in his district.

The possibilities for impasse and deal making are endless.

As it is now, commissioners and School Board members must answer to all voters, so they are forced to look at the overall needs of the county, rather than just those of their district's voters.

A more frustrating situation would occur if a voter could not get the ear of his or her particular commissioner to address a problem. Now, the voter can just go to another commissioner, who must worry about getting countywide voters. With single-member districts, the voter would simply be out of luck getting action.

The only advantage of single-member districts in Hernando at this time would be for candidates, who would not have to spend so much time or money campaigning countywide to be elected.

This questionable benefit for the candidate does not offset the losses to the voters.

The problems facing Hernando County at this time _ planning for growth, taking care of solid waste and hazardous waste disposal and setting up effective school programs, among others _ are countywide. The county is so small in size and population that nearly every governmental project crosses district lines, whether it is the building of a new road or a new school.

The big winners in single-member districts are the candidates.

The losers would be the voters who would hand over 80 percent of their present voting clout. It simply isn't worth it.