Woodruff offers limited-voting advicePublished 6:43pm Saturday, September 7, 2013
Beaufort County Manager Randell Woodruff is recommending a course of action related to the limited-voting method used to elect county commissioners.
In August, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners directed Woodruff to develop a cost estimate for the county further exploring the issue of limited voting in federal courts.
“Having conferred with David Francisco, I have come to the decision that it is not possible to realistically come up with such a recommendation,” Woodruff wrote in a memorandum to commissioners. “The potential legal costs could cover a wide spectrum of a few thousand dollars to upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Francisco is a local attorney that does some work for the county.
Aside from cost factors, Woodruff has other concerns.
“Furthermore, I don’t believe such a course of action would be prudent on the part of the Board of Commissioners as it would most likely be viewed as biased and not impartial due to each of you being personally impacted and in a conflicted position,” he wrote.
Woodruff suggested the board make the follow recommendations to the public:
• The board has studied the issue thoroughly in recent months and determined there are varying concerns among the public.
• The commissioners believe they are not able to make a recommendation to change the voting method because of the conflicted position they find themselves in because any changes would impact them as elected officials in the county.
• Encourage county residents who believe they are negatively impacted by the limited-voting method to seek relief in federal courts, if they feel so inclined.
“This course of action will allow the Board and its Commissioners to complete its review of the limited voting process and also demonstrates the seriousness of which you have considered concerns expressed by the public on this matter,” Woodruff wrote.
The proposed option, submitted to the board by the Beaufort County Limited Voting Committee with a 6-2 vote of endorsement last month, recommends that in elections when four seats on the seven-member board are open for election, that voters are allowed to vote for two candidates, and in elections when three seats on the board are up for grabs, voters may vote for only one candidate. That plan is derived from a study in 2007.
The panel considered two other options. One option retained the current seven-member configuration but with commissioners elected from districts (one commissioner per district) across the county. The other option called for four commissioners to be elected from districts, with one commissioner elected from each district. That option provided for three commissioners to be elected at-large across the county.
Since 1991, Beaufort County voters have used limited voting to elect commissioners. The method was imposed on the county by an order from a federal judge. The judge issued the order to enforce an agreement between county leaders and a group of black residents concerning the system of electing commissioners.
Under limited voting, a voter may vote for only one candidate no matter how many seats on the seven-member board are up for grabs in any election to choose board members. Currently, four board members are elected every four years, with three board members elected every four years. The two elections are held two years apart, providing staggered four-year terms for the commissioners.