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District voting plan approved

The Justice Department's approval means five county School Board seats will be filled through single-member districts this fall.

Hillsborough County has been given the green light from the U.S. Justice Department to move forward with a voter-approved plan to elect five School Board members from single-member rather than countywide districts.

Under the plan, two School Board seats will continue to be elected at large.

Approval was needed because Hillsborough is among dozens of counties whose voting procedures are federally monitored under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Hillsborough's case, monitoring began after the county failed to print ballots in Spanish in the 1960s, said Crosby Few, a lawyer for the school district.

"The department was reviewing (the new boundaries) to see if anyone's rights were being denied," Few said.

Justice Department go-ahead means elections in the fall will be radically reconfigured.

Candidates for three School Board seats up for election will compete only for voters in their districts rather than countywide. Those seats are currently held by Glenn Barrington, Doris Ross Reddick and Sharon Danaher.

Only one seat up for election, currently held by Carol Kurdell, will still compete countywide for voters.

To date, only Danaher has filed her candidacy with the Supervisor of Elections. Reddick says she plans to run again, and Kurdell said she expects to file next week. Barrington says he has not decided whether he will run again.

Candidates have until July 21 at noon to file with the county.

The approval of the new voting scheme comes more than a year after voters approved the measure in a referendum in November 1998. The ballot measure was supported by people wanting to increase the chances of minority representation on the board.

Currently, Reddick is the only African-American member and the second African-American ever elected to the board. There are no Hispanic members.

Under the new boundary lines, Reddick's district, now the single-member fifth district, is 37.8 percent African-American. The other four single-member districts are all less than 7 percent African-American.

Hispanic representation is more evenly distributed. District 1 is 20.9 percent Hispanic; District 2, 10.5 percent Hispanic; District 3, 8.3 percent Hispanic; District 4, 9.9 percent Hispanic; and District 5, 12.3 percent Hispanic.

Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio said the single-member districts might open the field to candidates without large campaign war chests or armies of envelope sealers and stamp lickers.

"It ought to make it easier because you don't have to run a countywide race. It won't be as expensive because candidates will be able to do grass-roots kinds of campaigning," Iorio said.

Reddick said she welcomes the new single-member plan. "I think that (single-member districts) are better than having to go all around the county, even though I came in twice in countywide races. But I won't be there forever. So, with that in mind, I think it will probably give a black person a better chance," she said.

Barrington of District 1 said he opposes the new voting scheme because it infuses the board with unnecessary parochialism.

"One district voting is not my thing," he said. "We represent the district as a whole."