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LOCAL

County commissioners move forward on effort to get at-large districts on ballot

Nora O'Neill
Gainesville Sun

Alachua County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with the process that will place a charter amendment on Novemberֱs ballot and ask voters to decide whether they want to keep the single-member districts 51.5% of them voted for in 2022 or move back to an at-large system.

Single-member districts have been contentious in the county since the last election cycle where Republican groups were accused by many, including Commissioner Ken Cornell who made Tuesdayֱs motion, of using misleading quotes and mailers to confuse voters on the topic. At the time, Cornell suggested proponents of single-member districts were running afoul of campaign laws to get the measure implemented.

In Alachua County, supporters of single-member districts say it provides more opportunity for more moderate and conservative voices to be elected to the County Commission. The board has historically been dominated by Democratic leaders. Opponents, however, say single-member districts are anti-democratic since all members make decisions for all county residents.

ֱMany of the members in my district are not happy with the fact that during this election, they will not have a voice, they will not be able to vote for any of the three seats,ֱ Cornell said Tuesday. ֱI think it's completely appropriate that I represent the folks of my district, listen to them, and put thisֱ back on the ballot.ֱ

The proposed ballot language that will ask voters to decide whether or not they want to keep single-member districts in the county.

More:What are single-member districts and why might they be on local ballots this year?

Under the countyֱs previous at-large system, county residents were allowed to vote for each of the five seats that make up the Board of County Commissioners. With single-member districts, commissioners areֱelected by only those living within the district they serve.

In 2022, 51.5% of Alachua County voters cast ballots in favor of single-member districts. The 2024 election will be the first time the new system will have an impact on who residents can vote for.

Tuesdayֱs motion laid out a timeline for the ballot measure. In June there will be a public hearing, then the county will notify the supervisor of elections of the adopted ordinance and several public notices will go out before the November election.

Commissioners say this ballot measure will give voters the chance to make a properly informed decision on single-member districts in comparison to the last election cycleֱs confusion.

ֱWhat I am interested in in this is that we do have an opportunity for people to really get educated and understand the issue and understand the opportunity, and so the voters have a chance to really make this decision with all the information,ֱ Commissioner Anna Prizzia said. ֱI think that while it was voted on last time, it was done in haste and it was done with a lot of misinformation out there.ֱ