Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Eastpointer

Countywide vs. Single District Voting

By Richard E. Noble

This is a difficult issue to understand and I still don't know if I have it down accurately. Somebody will have to contact an expert on Civil Rights legislation and voting rights. But nevertheless I have been trying to bone up on this issue and come to an understanding of it.
The following is how I understand this issue after limited studying of the legal jargon involved.
The first areas of contention are the principles of majority rule and minority rights. This confrontation goes back well before the establishment of the United States. This is a problem intrinsic to the political concept of democracy.
That the "majority" should rule has always been problematic. Philosophers have long warned against a possible "Dictatorship of the Majority" in democratic structures. Our whole structure of government is designed to counter just that. We have two representative bodies; one regulated by population and the other by simple membership. The House is population (majority) and the Senate is simple membership regardless of population - there are two senators form each state no matter what the size or population of the state.
A Bill of Rights was also established by the smaller states to protect their minority status, and the ninth amendment to protect us from our own Constitution. The ninth amendment reminds the populace that we retain rights NOT listed in the document. That we have RIGHTS other than those listed is the basis for much of the arguments related to the Supreme Court today.
In the 1960s it was decided by the Supreme Court that certain minorities were not being provided a fair representation in the governing of this nation. Changes to guarantee fair representation to these minorities were written into the law of the land. As a result of this legislation in 1963, twenty years later, in Franklin County, a legal action was taken to the Florida courts claiming that the traditional voting practices in Franklin County were not adequate to provide fair representation to all of its constituents.
The traditional practice of countywide voting was challenged by the local black community. This challenge was at the financial expense of the black community. They received no help or funding from the local government or the County Commission as far as I know.
In their case they brought in historical documentation that the practice of countywide voting was not adequate, was biased and prejudicial and made it impossible for blacks in Franklin County to be represented. The court decided in favor of the black community and placed an “injunction” against Franklin County and the practice of countywide voting.
This decision mandated that Franklin County devise a new system of voting that would guarantee a fair representation to the black community.
There were several different methods of voting that were accepted and approved as democratic that could have been enacted but the single district was decided upon as being the simplest, least confusing and least disruptive.
Since it was the winner-take-all, countywide, majority rule voting practice that was declared in violation of the law, the majority community cannot simply have a majority countywide voting referendum to over rule this legal action. It is the majority rule voting that was declared illegal in the first place.
A legal case must be taken to the court on behalf of those who are challenging the decision to over ride that decision.
My estimate is that the group that would like to pursue this action will have to have a very good team of lawyers with stacks of recent historical documentation and lots of money. I don't think that the County has enough taxpayers or taxpaying citizens to want to pursue this controversial expense. To ask the local County Commission to support one side or another in this action would be asking the commissioners to act “undemocratically” not democratically and to champion racial bias. It has already been stated by prominent members of the black community that they will make a legal challenge to any such action challenging their right to political representation in this County.
The winner take all countywide policy is still being challenged on other grounds all over the United States. Many communities even without a black constituency find this practice unfair and challenge it simply on the basis of its potential to empower a strong voting block of just 51% of the registered voters. With this system there is the potential that a small but well organized block of voters could take over any local government.
This is a big concern in areas where development is a prominent issue. Those who have enough money and backing could unfairly dominate the voting population and force this issue to one outcome or the other.
In summary, I do not think that the voters of Franklin County have the option of going back to countywide voting even if a majority of the voting population would like it better that way. Just as the majority of citizens in the entire nation as a whole could not vote slavery back into law even if they thought it advantageous or better suited to the needs of the majority.
In the United States of America the majority doesn't necessarily rule and it never has. The rights of minorities and individuals have always been a huge concern of the American people.

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother, Mr. Noble’s new novel, is now available along with Hobo-ing America and A Summer with Charlie on
Richard is a freelance writer who has lived in Eastpoint for over thirty years. If you would like to stock his books in your store or business, e-mail him at