What a Difference a District Makes

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY DEC 8, 2018

To the genuine surprise of few, Republican candidates seeking two Sarasota County Commission seats won countywide votes with relative ease. But voters also approved a switch to single-member districts, making this the last time voters throughout the county will vote on each commissioner.

So what can the Nov. 6 election tell us about the future? SRQ’s recent Where The Votes Are analysis looked at results of the vote at the precinct level.

First off, countywide results did County Commissioner Alan Maio won a second term on the board over Democrat Wesley Anne Beggs by almost 16,000 votes or about 8 percent of the vote. Interestingly, new County Commissioner Christian Ziegler beat Democrat Ruta Jouniari by a greater margin, nearly 23,000 votes or more than 11 percent.

But curiously, the closeness of the races flips when you look purely at a district level.

In District 2, Ziegler won by less than 1,200 votes, with 51.5 percent to Jouniari’s 48.5. Meanwhile, Maio beat Beggs in District 4 by more than 3,000 votes, with 53.6 percent to her 46.4 percent.

That means in a single-member district vote, Ziegler would have won narrowly but Maio would enjoy a landslide victory. That’s interesting considering the supposed distaste for Maio’s voting record in his immediate jurisdiction fed much of the argument in favor of moving to district elections at all. It’s of course worth acknowledging nobody campaigned exclusively for district votes this year, so one shouldn't assume these results would hold true had that been the case. But it gives a peak into how different elections could turn out in four years, and the results proved among the most surprising to the humble crowd attending Where The Votes Are this year,

Now thanks to term limits, Maio won’t run again in 2022, so his individual performance matters little in the near future. Ziegler will have the advantage of incumbency should he run again, but he faces a much more divided electorate in District 2 than he faced countywide.

What of the rest of the districts, who go up for vote in 2020? In what may be startling news to Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran, both Jouniari and Beggs won in District 1. The best comparison for Moran, an incumbent, may be to look at how Maio did there, which will be more depressing. Maio lost in that district by more than 2,700 votes, or by 7 percent.  That’s almost the percentage Maio won by in District 4.

There’s better news for County Commissioner Nancy Detert in District 3 and for whatever Republican looks to succeed County Commissioner Charles Hines in District 5. Ziegler won both districts by upward of 9,300 votes, and Maio won both by more than 7,900 votes.

Of course, all this assumes voters will vote more by party than by person. The difference between Ziegler’s and Maio’s totals tells us that’s not always going to be true. And for those who support single-member districts, the hope certainly will be that regional needs play a greater role than party allegiance in upcoming elections.

For that, we’ll have to wait a couple years to gauge outcomes.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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