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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Alachua County Commission moves to put single-member districts back on ballot

Residents could have chance to return to at-large system

At its meeting Tuesday, the Alachua County Commission moved to draft a ballot measure about single-member districts in the county.

If the measure is approved and passed, Alachua County residents would have the opportunity to decide whether they want to return to an at-large system by voting on the issue in the upcoming November election. 

Alachua County was previously run under an at-large election system, in which candidates don’t represent a specific district within the county and all residents have a say in their appointment. In single-member districts, residents of each designated district are only able to vote for one candidate to represent their own district.

During public comment, 11 Alachua County residents, including members of the Alachua County NAACP and Alachua County Labor Coalition, expressed concerns about single-member districts and urged the commission to put a referendum on the November ballot. Others sat in the audience, wearing badges in support.

Of those who spoke, many accused local Republican leaders of misinformation and “dirty tricks” when residents voted on the issue in 2022, switching Alachua County’s structure from at-large to single-member districts. At the time, the change was advertised as a way to better represent Alachua County residents.

In the 2022 campaigning period, the NAACP logo was falsely used to garner support for single-member districts. The organization’s Alachua County branch has attempted to pursue legal action over the issue, according to public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting.

Florida Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-21) was at the meeting Tuesday to speak on the topic. She was involved with the issue of single-member districts at the state level and wished residents got a voice, she said.

“It was commandeered much like GRU takeover,” Hinson said. “It really needs to go back on the ballot so that our local citizens can give their opinion about single-member districts.”

The only reason the change was passed in 2022 was because of “disinformation, misinformation and outright lies,” she said.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia made the motion Tuesday to have staff create the ballot language for a referendum about single-member districts. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Chuck Chestnut. In order to have the measure on the November ballot, the referendum will need to be drafted and approved by the commission by the first meeting of July. 

Commissioner Ken Cornell expressed support for the creation of a referendum. He had advocated against single-member districts when they were first on the ballot in 2022.

“For those of you that paid attention in 2022, you know that I was involved in actually trying to help educate the public as to what was going on,” Cornell said. “I held a joint press conference with the NAACP when the disinformation campaign started.”

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Members of Alachua County District 4, which Cornell represents, are upset about the issue, he said.

“They would like to have a voice, and they don’t have a voice,” Cornell said.

The motion was passed unanimously, with Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler absent.

The Alachua County Commission will meet again April 23.

Contact Bailey Diem at bdiem@alligator.org. Follow her on X @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.


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