My Turn: It’s time to do away with limited votingPublished 5:20pm Thursday, July 11, 2013
When I campaigned for a seat on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, one of the planks in my platform was to do something about the way in which are commissioners are elected here. “Limited voting” has been in place for over 20 years in this county. With seven members of our board, we all have the opportunity to vote for one commissioner each election cycle. When four seats are open, we vote for one. When three seats are open, we vote for one. This process I felt, and continue to feel, is not the adequate way to elect our county commissioners.
When sworn in, I followed up on my campaign promise to address this issue. Chairman Jerry Langley set up our limited-voting study committee, of which I chaired. Over a six-month period, we studied alternate methods of electing our commissioners, from keeping the status quo to a hybrid method — meaning districts and at-large-seats; and the one that ultimately passed the committee for consideration by the commissioners. That proposal is to give all citizens two votes in the years four commissioners are elected and staying with one vote the years three commissioners are elected. A compromise indeed, but at least a step in the right direction. A year ago I didn’t believe we could be at this point.
I do not believe that this is what needs to be done in Beaufort County forever. I still believe that we need to make sure that areas of the county that are not represented have the opportunity to do so. With the Supreme Court tossing out Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Beaufort County no longer has to go through “preclearance” through the U.S. Justice Department when we change our voting laws. This provision is what brought Beaufort County limited voting in the first place. The commissioners now can vote to change how we elect our commissioners on our own without federal interference.
The problem and political reality with that is we have four county commissioners who adamantly oppose changing limited voting. Those four are Commissioners Hood Richardson, Stand Deatherage, Jerry Langley and Ed Booth. They represent the best case of enlightened self-interest I have ever seen because the current method of limited voting virtually assures their re-election as often as they choose to serve. So, we end up with a 4-3 vote to do nothing. But I do believe that we can work together to pass the method recommended by the study committee. I urge each citizen to come to our public hearing Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. at the Beaufort County Administration Building at 121 W. Third St. in Washington to express your desires on what you would like to see done on this issue. Should this venue change, the public will be notified. No commissioner is granted a life term on the board. As a commissioner, I cannot sue myself. But I do fear that if we do nothing on this issue a lawsuit could be forthcoming. I urge our residents to contact each commissioner personally and express your desire to us. After all, we, as commissioners, are servants to the people of our county. Unfortunately the fact is that limited voting inhibits that duty in many ways. You can find each commissioner’s contact information by visiting www.co.beaufort.nc.us or contact the county managers office at 946-0079, and I’m sure it will more than happy to provide that information as well. And, as always, feel free to contact me at 943-8048.
Gary Brinn is a Republican and Washington resident.