Sarasota County must choose democracy over incumbents

The Sarasota County Commission chose to protect incumbents over commission districts that provided fair representation to all county residents. FLIER calls on Sarasota County to resolve these problems of an unrepresentative "democracy".
June 24, 2011 - PRLog -- Earlier this month the Sarasota County Commission approved changes to its commission districts in an effort to meet the requirements of state law which obligates the changes when the populations of the districts vary too much. The commissioners had an opportunity to further develop representative democracy in Sarasota County by drawing fair, objective districts that would address the concerns of underrepresentation from the county's south end, to where population growth has shifted. Instead, commissioners specifically instructed staff to draw a map that protects them, so as not to force any incumbents to run against one another without resolving the issues of underrepresentation.

The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER) calls on Sarasota County commissioners, municipal elected officials, and voters who value fair representation to demand that commission districts be drawn to the standards of the recently passed Fair Districts Amendments for state and federal districts, as a minimum. Further progress would be requiring commission districts to be drawn by non-partisan experts without any political or elections data, including the addresses of incumbents, striving to create districts that are compact and equal in population. Commissioners may still hold the right to approve the plan, but should do so in a straight vote, up or down, with no amendments permitted. Iowa has done this successfully for its state and federal districts since 1981!

In addition to reforming county commission redistricting, Sarasota County should implement the following reforms to further develop representative democracy:

• Implement instant runoff voting (a.k.a. ranked choice voting) for all single winner elected seats on the County Commission and constitutional officers. This method is used in Australia to elect the House, in Ireland to elect the President, and in several major U.S. cities including San Francisco. IRV is proven to save money by eliminating traditional runoffs while producing majority winners, reduce the need for negative campaigning and fundraising, eliminate “wasted” votes, and increase representation. As FairVote describes, IRV works simply:

“First round of counting: The voters rank their preferred candidate first and may also rank additional choices (second, third, etc.). In the first round of counting, the voters’ #1 choices are tallied. A candidate who receives enough first choices to win outright (typically a majority) is declared the winner. However, other candidates may have enough support to require a runoff – just as in traditional runoff systems.

Second round: If no one achieves a clear victory, the runoff occurs instantly. The candidate with the fewest votes is removed and the votes made for that candidate are redistributed using voters’ second choices. Other voters’ top choices remain the same. The redistributed votes are added to the counts of the candidates still in competition. The process is repeated until one candidate has majority support.”

• Use instant runoff voting to increase transparency and integrity by following San Francisco’s example and using optical scan voting machines to capture ballot images then releasing the data files showing every ballot’s set of rankings. This allows anyone to do a recount and full analysis while protecting the secrecy of ballots. It would also effectively resolve the risk of another undervoting scandal like the one which occurred in 2006 where 18,000 voters, or about one in seven, did not have their votes recorded in the congressional race.

• Reform the County Commission composition to a mix of single member and proportional representation. For example, four single member district seats elected by instant runoff voting and three seats elected at large through proportional representation such as single transferable vote (a proportional version of instant runoff voting). Single transferable vote is successfully used in Cambridge, MA (since 1940), Minneapolis, MN, Ireland (since 1922), Australia (since 1948), Scotland, and elsewhere for national and local elections. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also uses single transferable vote for nominations and instant runoff voting for choosing winners.

By adopting these reforms, Sarasota County would be a model in the development of representative democracy. This is especially important in a state where even the existing unrepresentative "democracy" is experiencing a further rollback of democratic standards at the hands of the Legislature and the governor, who are also fighting the voter approved Fair Districts Amendments.

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The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform is a non-partisan coalition of groups and individuals recognizing the need for electoral reforms to enrich and expand democracy in our state and its localities. In addition to advocacy, we seek to provide education on electoral reform and the policy solutions necessary to realize it. We are working towards a vibrant democracy with accessibility for the average person, a competitive political environment, and pluralism in policy and decision making. For more information please visit or e-mail

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