Sarasota County Election: Single Member District System Prevails

Supporters of retaining Sarasota County’s single-member district system for electing county commissioners triumphed in a referendum on amending the county charter, according to unofficial results Tuesday night from the Office of the Supervisor of County Commissioners. elections.

The tables showed that 57.2% of voters opposed the proposed charter amendment, while 42.8% voted for it.

The tally came with the 99 constituencies reported. All early ballots and most mail-in ballots were also counted.

“It’s just wonderful,” said Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, an organization that has advocated for single-member districts. “I’m so grateful that everyone in the county worked together. People from all political parties stood up; we actually defeated what the commissioners were trying to take away from us.”

A voter drops off their ballot at the Office of the Supervisor of Elections in Sarasota on Tuesday afternoon.  Supporters of retaining Sarasota County's single-member district system for electing county commissioners triumphed in a referendum on amending the county charter, according to unofficial results Tuesday night from the Office of the Supervisor of County Commissioners. elections in Sarasota.

In a 2018 referendum, nearly 60% of Sarasota County voters approved single-member districts — a system in which commissioners are elected only by the citizens of their constituency. Previously, county commissioners were chosen in county-wide elections.

County commissioners said they believed voters did not understand what they were voting on in 2018, so they decided last year to plan another referendum, hoping to overturn the previous decision.

None of the five county commissioners could be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

More to know:What to know about the March 8 referendum in Sarasota County on the election of commissioners

Context:Sarasota County’s March Election Will Determine the Future of Single-Member Districts

The Sarasota County Republican Party also supported the countywide vote.

“The voters have spoken, and we still respect the will of the voters,” said Jack Brill, acting chairman of the local Republican Party.

Brill said his party will now start focusing on the school board election in August.

A sign directing voters to the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, which was a polling place for Tuesday's election.

The Sarasota County Democratic Party supported single-member districts. JoAnne DeVries, president of the local Democratic Party, said she was “absolutely delighted” that the single-member districts were retained by the voters.

“The other party was convinced voters were confused the first time around,” she said. “Voters were not confused.”

Proponents of single-member districts have argued that the system makes commissioners more accountable and gives candidates who are not backed by the business community a better chance of winning a seat on the commission.

Current commissioners, on the other hand, said the system prevents residents from voting for four out of five commissioners.

A costly campaign by a political committee based in Tallahassee promoted county-wide voting for commissioners.

Tuesday’s referendum is the third indication that there is more support for single-member districts in Sarasota County than opposition. The first was the 2018 referendum. The second was the 2021 Sarasota County Citizen Opinion Survey.

The survey asked county residents to rate, on a scale of one to five, how they feel about the county’s move from countywide elections to single-member districts. The survey found that 26% of respondents disapproved of the change, while 40% approved of it.

County voters too approved the renewal of an optional property tax for the Sarasota County School District Tuesday, with 85% of voters in favor of the referendum and 14.5% opposed, according to unofficial results.

Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at [email protected] or (941) 228-3321 and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.