Once this year’s Sarasota County Commission elections conclude, the board will be made up entirely of commissioners elected in single-member district elections. And after voters in March shot down a county-wide referendum that would have restored countywide votes to decide all five commissioners, it seems like parochial elections are here to stay. For Kindra Muntz, who spent years lobbying for district-level voting. She said simply reducing the costs of running a race has gone down, as candidates spend less money on mailers and can win without traveling the entire county looking for votes. That said, a review of expenses shows plenty of money still pouring into races. Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Alan Maio spent about $86,000 and $135,000 respectively to win elections in 2018, the last time commissioners were decided in countywide votes. Before the primary had even concluded, two candidates running to succeed Ziegler — Democrat Hagen Brody and Republican Mark Smith — had each raised more than $60,000 for the race. Joe Neunder, a Republican running for Maio’s seat, reported raising more than $120,000 through June.

Ziegler opted not to run in a single-member district, in part frustrated that the redistricting process put the Republican in a Democrat-leaning seat. But he maintains voters were better served when they could elect all five county commissioners. Single-member district voting, in his eyes, changed the relationship voters have with the board. “Everyone lost 80% of their representation and 80% of their accountability,” he said. “They lost the right to vote for four of five county commissioners, and you need a majority to get anything done.” But candidates running under the new system have fully embraced it. Democrat Mike Cosentino said regardless of what money candidates can raise and spend, grassroots candidates can outwork well-funded candidates and win anyway. “It gives a guy like me a chance to win without having to spend $100,000,” he said.