Alachua County plans redo of 2022 single-member districts vote

County Commissioner Ken Cornell speaks at a joint meeting with the Gainesville City Commission.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell speaks at a joint meeting with the Gainesville City Commission.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Alachua County voters could once again decide whether to elect county commissioners based on single-member districts or at-large districts—mirroring the 2022 ballot measure that voters passed by 51.5%.  

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) directed staff on Tuesday to bring back ballot language for the November general election. County Attorney Sylvia Torres said the ballot language and approval by the BOCC will need to happen by the first meeting in July.  

In 2022, voters decided to switch from the at-large districts to single-member districts—an effort supported by local Republican leaders. Now, the ballot language will give voters the opportunity to switch back to at-large districts—an effort supported by local Democrats including all five BOCC members.  

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The 2022 ballot measure hasn’t impacted the local BOCC as no county elections have been held since the change. The upcoming November elections will be the first to use the single-member district methodology.  

With single-member districts, county residents can only vote for the commission who represents their district, allowing each district to select its own commissioner. Under at-large districts, every Alachua County voter can vote for all five commission seats. 

BOCC Commissioner Anna Prizzia offered the motion to start the ballot measure process, and Commissioner Chuck Chestnut seconded. The motion passed unanimously, with Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler absent. 

Commissioner Ken Cornell, who has advocated against single-member districts, said the citizens he’s talked to have expressed amazement that they can only vote for one of the BOCC commissioners instead of all of them.  

“Since that time, the folks in my district are very upset,” Cornell said. “They’re mostly upset because they actually do not have a voice in this upcoming election.”   

According to the Florida Association of Counties, around 20 Florida counties use single-member districts and 40 use at-large districts. Several counties also have a hybrid format. 

Map showing the Alachua County Commission districts.
Courtesy Alachua County Map showing the Alachua County Commission districts.

The Tuesday vote at the BOCC meeting wasn’t scheduled, but during citizen comment, a dozen speakers asked the BOCC to consider a ballot amendment, even offering draft language. This citizen-spurred topic prompted the vote.  

In March, a similar series of events led the Gainesville City Commission to begin a ballot measure that would undo the impacts of House Bill 1645 passed last year. The BOCC and Gainesville ballot measures both target initiatives led by state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, and state Sen. Keith Perry. Both state representatives are now term limited. 

The speakers brought the issue forward with several others in the crowd but not speaking. The speakers included representatives for the NAACP and the Alachua County Labor Coalition.  

Speakers expressed outrage at how the 2022 referendum was started and carried out, and they said the single-member advocates lied, used dark money, didn’t play fair and didn’t give enough time for education.  

One speaker said many people they knew voted against what they wanted because there wasn’t enough time for education.  

State Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, was one of the speakers. She was the lone dissent from the Alachua County delegation to creating the ballot measure in 2022.  

“It was won by disinformation, misinformation and outright lies,” Hinson said on Tuesday. 

The 2022 vote came with accusations of misconduct on both sides. Perry and Clemons asked the state to investigate the BOCC using county funds to advocate against single-member districts.  

The referendum was placed on the ballot because of a local bill sponsored by the Alachua County delegation of state representatives. Clemons said at the time that he didn’t know which side would win but wanted to give the opportunity for a vote.  

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JeffK

Good idea to have ALL local elections and referendums the same time most voters show up, the General election cycle years, like 2024.
In the past the “experts” said local elections should be treated differently, and held in off-cycle years, even in springtime. But only a tiny portion of the population votes, even less for the “winning” candidates and referendums. Every two years in November is best.

Bill Whitten

What gets lost in the debates for and against single member districts is how those districts are to be drawn. The power to gerrymander allows politicians to select their voters rather than voters selecting the politician. The gerrymander is one of the most pernicious anti-democratic practices destroying our ability to self-govern.

LindaJ

Ken Cornell continually said the people did not want single-member districts. We were relentless to get this vote to the people. He continually said “they” knew best. We were continually shut down at the County Charter Review board meetings. Twelve members made the decision that the issue could not be opened for discussion purposes. The people spoke. You can’t change it because you don’t like the outcome. Dictatorship!

Kevin

So they don’t like the way the vote turned out so let’s just have a do-over. Awesome. I hope it passes with a higher percentage.

Janice Garry

The League of Women Voters stands for free and fair elections. We were concerned about the single member district ballot initiative in 2022. Many of our members received misleading information in a mailer that clearly misrepresented the NAACP and African American leaders. The vote on the initiative was close which begged the question as to whether misinformation, not accurate representation of the facts, contributed to the result.
Janice Garry, LWV of Alachua County President

Juan

We all know your agenda and comments are slanted Poppycock. How’s that Biomass Debacle working out for GRU and a Pennyless Gainesville?

infinity306

there needs to be a laugh out loud response. 😉