Letters to the Editor
August 9, 2017 letter published in Venice Gondolier-Sun:
I am writing in response to Glen Nickerson’s Wed., July 12 column. Mr. Nickerson, you are absolutely correct in identifying a problem with today’s elections - local, state, and federal. In order for more “real” people to run for office instead of “politicians who are slaves to their big money donors”, we need reform. There is one thing right now that the citizens in Sarasota County can do to help accomplish better citizen representation in County government. Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) is beginning a petition drive for Single Member Districts. If candidates for County Commission and Charter Review Board only had to run in their districts, rather than county-wide, the playing field would be leveled and those elected officials would be more accountable to their constituents in their district. Running for office county-wide, where you need 120,000 votes to win, is much more financially challenging than winning your election in your district, which requires 20,000 votes. As it stands, candidates need real money, which comes from the same “deep pockets” donors.
SAFE is totally non-partisan and was the non-profit group that brought the voter referendum of paper ballots instead of touchscreen, “paper, not vapor”. Pretty much all voting experts and citizens now are in agreement that having a paper back-up is a more reliable way to vote. Our mission this time is better citizen representation in our county. Big money should not control our politicians. The link to the petitions is: http/www.keepdemocracysafe.org/downloads/Sarasota-County-Single-Member-District-Petitions.pdf. Petitions can be mailed to the PO Box at the bottom of petition. We need between 16,000-17,000 petitions for each to get on the ballot in an election. Many counties in Florida already do it this way.
Small step for Sarasota County citizens, big step for fair and honest representation.
SAFE Board Member
August 16, 2017 letter published in the Venice Gondolier-Sun:
The August 2, 2017 Our View article “SAFE Wants To Revive Voting By Districts” did an excellent job of presenting the pros and cons of our current system of electing our County Commissioners versus a proposed single-member voting district system. But, I don’t share the writer’s concern that changing to a single-member district system might result in the commission’s decision-making process becoming less about the public interest.
The article rightly points out that our present system—where candidates live in their home districts but seek votes county-wide—fosters collegial decision-making. This system can encourage wider public interest policy making and help prevent power struggles among districts. However, a representative democracy is not designed to foster a collegial handholding club.
In an area the size of Sarasota County, the current system is deeply flawed. This system tends to favor entrenched big money interests, discourages diverse grass-roots input, and makes running for a County Commission seat an extremely expensive endeavor for all but the most well heeled and connected.
Under a single-member district system, candidates seek votes only in their home districts. They have the incentive and opportunity to get to know the people of their district and the people can get to know them. Those elected are more beholden to their neighbors and constituents, so special interest influences have less power. District voters have direct control over who represents the district’s needs.
There will, of course, be struggles for scarce resources and spirited policy debates. But if wise candidates are elected, there will also be compromises that benefit the public interest. If this doesn’t happen, voters should elect new representatives. That’s what a representative democracy is about.
If the election reform petition being circulated by Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) collects enough signatures, the voters of Sarasota County will have the power to decide for themselves which system benefits them the most.