At-large voting disenfranchises everyone in Fayette County

Tue, 09/04/2007 - 3:54pm
By: The Citizen

On Thursday, Aug. 23, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation to honor the 250th birthday of the county’s namesake, the Marquis de LaFayette.

The proclamation was impressive in its recognition of LaFayette’s military, financial and leadership contributions in “bringing France into the war on the side of the American forces, helping to convince the King to provide fighting forces and a fleet of ships to do battle with the oppressive forces of England ... never wavering in his decision to champion the cause of Liberty.”

A distinguished-looking contingent from the local chapter of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution was on hand and the attendees clapped in appreciation for LaFayette’s role in liberating the 13 colonies, who would go on to form a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

How ironic that the commissioners issued the proclamation in the same week that they voted to alter the lines that constitute our voting districts while continuing to deny the citizens living in the respective districts the sole right to elect their county representatives.

Though new to the current Board of Commissioners, the issue of Fayette County’s at-large voting scheme has been the subject of increasing attention. Previous and subsequent arguments against district-based voting have been characterized as racially motivated and, perhaps, there is a supporting statistical case to be made.

However, at-large voting negatively impacts more than a single race. Fayette County is one of a very few places in Georgia where the residents of the whole county choose the representative of each district.

The practical effect of this system is that an individual district representative has no incentive to protect and enhance his district because he can count on the other two districts to reelect him, as long as he protects them better than the district he was actually elected to represent.

Thus, the residents of a single district – black and white – can find themselves equally disenfranchised in an at-large voting scheme.

Simply put, at-large voting is equivalent to mob rule; the residents of a district will only get the representation that the other two districts will accept.

If that is hard to fathom, consider the potentially far-reaching impact of everyday actions of the Board of Commissioners. I have witnessed people appear before the Board of Commissioners in opposition to zoning requests who say with complete disdain, “We don’t want to be like the North side.”

I don’t know what that means, but I’ll bet that they consider that sentiment when they cast a vote for a commissioner for a north side district.

Commissioner Eric Maxwell, opposing district-based voting said, “We don’t want to be like Riverdale.” He qualified his statement, saying that meant that he doesn’t want the crime, the drugs and the robberies in Riverdale and, to this day, I have never heard any resident of Fayette County – for or against district-based voting – say that they want to roll out the welcome mat for crime, drugs and robberies.

So, what does Commissioner Maxwell really mean? Is his assumption that, once allowed self-determination in its choice of representation, a district will elect criminals?

State and county laws already prohibit persons “convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude” from serving on the County Commission. Clearly, he can’t mean that criminals will be allowed to vote in Fayette County because Georgia law already prohibits felons from voting, but what does he mean? I hope Commissioner Maxwell will be called upon to clarify his position; it is tortured logic, to say the least.

Or is there something more to the commissioners’ knee-jerk opposition to district-based voting? What if a commissioner’s campaign for election was substantially funded by residents of a certain district? What incentive might there be for that commissioner to approve a tax scheme that increases taxes in the other two districts, even if the increase affects the district he was elected to represent?

Isn’t that, arguably, the very same mutual back-scratching, hand-washing and backroom dealing that those opposed to district-based voting believe they are avoiding by clinging to at-large voting?

Irrespective of the motivations of the individual members of the Board of Commissioners, the obvious question every Fayette County resident should be asking is this: what is the point of rebalancing the population of the districts if it will still require a majority of the entire county to elect the representative of each individual district?

Why have districts at all if every district representative is elected by residents of other districts?

And why does this rebalancing have to take place right now? What magic is there about balanced districts, especially if the proposed districts are based upon population data that is seven years old and will be refreshed in less than three years?

The commissioners have, apparently, recognized that there is no value in voting based upon a post-Revolutionary War plan, but they would still have us subjected to Colonial Era taxation without representation.

What LaFayette will the residents of Fayette County have to implore to come to their aid? And what illogical fears will their opponents stoke in an effort to be free of accountability to their districts while spending their money and raising their taxes?

Angela Hinton Fonda

amfonda (at)

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