The silence was a bit deafening this time.
As an odd numbered year, 2019 provided an opportunity under Florida law to redraw district maps if counties so choose, last performed in 2011.
On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners approved a map offered by staff which massaged district boundaries a bit in order to even up district populations and divide the two state correctional facilities between Districts 1 and 4.
This year, in comparison to some past years of Broadway theater we have been entertained (if that is the right word) with over the issue, there was nary a whisper about county-wide voting.
This is no surprise, per se, but to let it pass without another plea for a restoration of full voter rights to all in this county, well, can’t do it.
Sure, county officials can talk about melding the "one-person, one-vote" concept into deliberations over redistricting, but in the case of the BOCC and Gulf County School Board they are hollow words.
Not until all eligible voters may vote for all.
There is a comfort in the status quo for commissioners, certainly, and why change a system which allows one to face just a one-fifth of the eligible voters in the county to win a seat is a sweet set-up.
Hey, when you can win a commission seat by garnering less than one-tenth the number of eligible voters in the county, that’s a nice gig, and a paid one to boot.
The constitutional officers, including sheriff, school superintendent, tax collector, clerk of courts and supervisor of elections would likely enjoy switching places.
They must answer to every single voter in every single corner of the county.
And, sure, commissioners receive and respond to phone calls and emails from residents outside their district, but as for consequences, those are only truly found within their respective district boundaries.
They are entitled to speak all they wish about representing the entire county, but they don’t where the rubber hits the proverbial road, in the voting box.
The latest exhibit in the case against single-member districts is the $5.9 million the county will receive in the short-term for hurricane housing.
Rather than directing that money on the most pressing needs in the county, regardless of geography, the final decision was to simply split the money up among the five districts.
That merely demonstrates for the 2,500 or so voters in each district that their commissioner snagged them some dollars.
But the silence is at least a modest improvement compared to the chincanery at times evident in this 15-year dance, performed since voters overwhelmingly expressed support for countywide voting.
Commissioners are least more civil and likeable while ignoring voters.
Prior boards gave us a now infamous Halloween hayride in which a majority of the board ousted the chairman over his opposition to countywide voting, one commissioner proclaiming the board would take it all the way to the "Supreme Court" if need be.
Two weeks later, all was back to normal; and, to put a period to this, the Supreme Court has yet to take up the case.
There was also the same board turning away a private donation of $200,000 which at the time was the estimated legal cost of amending the federal decree, now nearly 30 years old, which established single-member districts.
Any argument commissioners offer about the length of time since that 2004 referendum on countywide voting is mitigated by the nearly three decades since that federal consent decree was put in place.
Even as recently as four years ago, commissioners were at least alluding to moving on countywide voting, with a consulting attorney still on retainer.
And, as it turns out, a decision out of Jefferson County pertaining to counting inmates apparently had no bearing at all, despite the proclamations of the county’s consulting attorney.
In that 2016 case, a federal judge ruled counties could not count prisoners as part of crafting district voting maps.
The county went ahead and counted inmates anyway this year.
Interesting because the consulting attorney told the board at the time the Jefferson County was being argued he would not proceed in trying to overturn the federal decree unless the county was in compliance with state law.
Also interesting in that the county is using 2010 census numbers to move forward while a new census is set to begin in April and the status of the prison populations at Gulf Correctional and the Forestry Camp are currently in flux.
All of which is really whistling in the wind.
Commissioners won’t act on countywide voting because it is not in their interest and likely time will be set aside during a future public meeting for staff or legal counsel to provide an explanation why voters really don’t want countywide voting.
Nothing, though, can overcome the logic that this voting system is askew.
That all eligible voters may vote on every single local elected official with impact on their lives, including their city commissioners on both ends of the county, but can only vote on one of five seats on the BOCC or school board subverts voting rights.
No amount of legalese or lectures from county staff will change that simple equation: one of five doesn’t equal full representation; it is the number of doctors who don’t recommend Crest.
Further, to go all Founding Fathers, considering these are two countywide taxing authorities levying the highest taxes in the county, the current voting system leans mighty close to taxation without representation.
One final point, if Hurricane Michael taught anything it is that we are in this together, we must band, bond, congregate, pick one, together over the long haul ahead.
We will not fully rebuild and restore if not.
And those district lines provide divisions that right now the county does not need.
In closing, as stated earlier, this will all surely be rebutted during a future county meeting.
And that will represent another in what is now long line of dodges from successive commissioners over 15 years to block forward movement on an issue voters believed was settled long ago.
If commissioners believe there is doubt out here among the voters, put it to a vote; 2020 will be a busy balloting year.
But only if the ensuing actions will mirror the results.