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Voting irregularities

Tim Croft

Election seasons are not my favorite season.

This, I am sure, comes from the “blow-in” portion of my brain.

The concept of being able to only vote for a single county commissioner, a single school board member, was a foreign one before moving to Gulf County.

Even after more than two decades, and, yes, technically still a “blow-in”, it remains as foreign as a Spanish language book.

Imagine this scenario: as the lines to vote in November’s general election queue up, the staff of the Supervisor of Elections determines that only one in five voters may vote for president.

Trump voters, Biden voters, doesn’t matter, only one in five will be able to cast ballots.

That sums up the county’s schizophrenic voting system.

As days are much too filled with the national media and its talking heads rambling on about voting irregularities or voter fraud, my “blow-in” mind wanders to whether Gulf County could be a test case.

Voter fraud is not my concern.

I have full faith in Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon and his team.

And, bluntly, no evidence has been produced yet that voter fraud exists on anything near the scale some assert.

But the reality is the voting status quo in this county serves to disenfranchise every voter.

There are two school board seats in play during this primary election season and a county commissioner race.

But these three seats with county-wide impact will be decided by maybe one-tenth of eligible voters; at most only 20 percent of eligible voters will even be able to cast votes in each race.

Put another way, an eligible voter has a voice in just one of the five seats on the only two county-wide boards.

That is a voting irregularity.

A maddening aspect is that as time has distanced all from a ballot referendum that indicated nearly seven in every 10 eligible voters wanted an end to single-member districts, there is less and less urgency on the issue.

At least for a time, county commissioners paid lip service, hired a consulting attorney at what was surely a nice fee and infamously threatened to take the issue to the “Supreme Court.”

A few years later amid changes on the board the issue has become as dead as the sense of humanity found in those who still refuse to wear a face mask inside businesses.

(And let us also make clear that the violators, the ones quickest to scream about their rights, who refuse to wear masks, seem to skew more toward locals than visitors.

Strictly anecdotal evidence, but what will it take for people to be considerate of others?)

The Board of County Commissioners even redrew district lines last year, in the final year of the decade and just prior to another census, without a peep about county-wide voting.

Well understood is there is little motivation for county commissioners to alter the landscape.

The fewer voters one faces the better the chance for re-election not to mention fewer challengers (with single-member districts any challenger is basically a neighbor, reducing the chances of a challenge).

But the stalemate disregards clearly-stated voter wishes.

Commissioners have done a solid job navigating the hurricane and pandemic, which have diverted much attention and resources.

But the voters wish to have county-wide voting and have stated it emphatically at the ballot box.

One vote, one person, per seat; pretty simple math and one most counties across the nation have managed to figure out.

Heck, the two municipalities figured it out.

And given the gutting of central tenets of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court and a case involving counting inmates in Jefferson County, there seems no better time to strike than in 2021, when commissioner can next draw lines.

A more perplexing case is the school board, which adheres to single-member districts out of tradition, ease with county redistricting; just spit-balling here.

But the board is under no legal obligation to maintain a voting process that includes single-member districts and could perform the civics lesson of all time by making the move next year to county-wide voting.

This argument has been made in this space before, but the times seem appropriate for a review.

Too much right now is partisan and due to a pandemic we seem to have lost the concept of human communication, of empathy, sympathy, of just interacting in a civil way.

And those district lines do, whether commissioners or school board members wish to acknowledge it, divide us further.

On issues from disaster housing to federal grant dollars to assist businesses impacted by COVID, decisions are focused along district lines, not county needs, and a lottery system by district.

In the dictionary, irregularity is defined as “a thing that is irregular in form and nature.”

Sounds like the state of county voting.