It’s a one-two punch.
Fayette gets a public relations black eye on the subject of race relations, and its taxpayers (black and white) get hammered with an expenditure of one to two million dollars. All that for the sake of obsessing against district voting.
In February 2005 — 10 years ago — The Citizen published a letter to the editor from me about district voting.
Staying away from divisive issues about race, which unfortunately provide the most solid basis for judicial redress, I presented the other arguments that favor district voting.
I started by asking the question, Why are so many of us disgusted with politics and politicians?
I surmised that an important reason is that we don’t know our representatives well enough, and they don’t know us either. One reason for that is that we have too many of them, and they have too many constituents.
Under at-large voting, if I have a problem with any aspect of county government, I have five county commissioners to contact.
Anyone that I would contact would probably ask himself, why is this citizen contacting me rather than any of the other four commissioners? It’s a fair question. The citizen wonders which of the five he’s supposed to contact, or whether to undertake the burdensome task of contacting all five.
Meanwhile, each commissioner has an incentive and opportunity to pass the buck, telling himself that my problem is not “his” concern as I am no more his constituent than I am a constituent of the other four commissioners.
The late Aubrey VanLandingham once told me that, when he became commissioner, he was advised (by the other commissioners) not to engage in email correspondence with the citizens, apparently because he might be overwhelmed. If commissioners won’t respond to email on purpose, that makes them less responsive to the people.
My reasoning then was that, with about 60,000 voters in Fayette County, each commissioner was exposed to the concerns of 60,000 people. With district representation, with five districts and one commissioner per district, each commissioner would be directly responsible to 12,000 voters.
Why, I asked (rhetorically), do so many of us favor smaller classroom sizes in our schools? Because it makes the teachers more effective, as they know the students better and have more time for each one. District voting has similar advantages.
At election time, the more candidates we have to consider as voters, the more confused we tend to get. It’s certainly more difficult to sort out 15 candidates running for five positions than it is to sort out three running for one position.
The candidates have a similar problem in trying to make themselves personally known to the voters. They have to resort to impersonal and costly ads with a limited message, and oftentimes feel moved to use gimmicks to get name recognition.
My thinking then — and it has not changed — was that we as voters need to know our representatives, and to know them personally. They need to know us personally too, and to care about us.
District voting makes it easier for us to know the candidates and to choose our representative wisely, and after the election it helps the representative be more responsive because we know who it is we are supposed to talk to, and the representative knows our vote has more weight, and our individual influence is greater, when we are part of a group of 12,000 voters than when we are part of a group of 60,000.
This last argument is the counterpunch to those who claim to be losing 80 percent of their vote under district voting. What they’re left with under district voting is more knowledge about who they are voting for (or against) and five times more influence with their vote.
It is so unfortunate that this whole debate is now focused upon race. There’s more to district voting than that. Our elected officials were long ago provided all the ammunition they needed to come to a proper, effective and elegant solution to the concerns of those who feel underrepresented under at-large voting.
Instead they forced the hand of those who had to use the blunt force of judicial power to achieve the same result, all at great financial expense to the taxpayers, and at the expense of Fayette County’s reputation.
It is hard to know where those who steer our ship of state, at the county level, are taking us now, but they might want to reconsider the whole thing.
[Claude Y. Paquin, a Fayette county resident and former president of the Fayette County Bar Association, is a retired lawyer and actuary.]