County: ‘No’ to at-large voting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Shelby County Commissioners put an end Monday &045; once and for all &045; to the idea of cumulative, or at-large, voting.

Commissioner George Dailey, the only black member of the commission, has asked other commissioners to consider this voting alternative for the past couple of months.

The commission has been forced to reconsider its setup since the 1990 consent decree, which established its nine commission districts, was called into question during 2002.

Prior to 1990, Shelby County’s governing body was a four-member commission with the probate judge serving as chairman. Commissioners lived in their districts but ran at large. In 1959, it was amended that the commissioners would run in the districts in which they live and in 1990, the setup changed to its current status.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in May 2002, however, that the move from a four-member, or four-district, commission was unlawful without a state statute.

At the time, Ellis offered the commission a variety of options to fix the problem including &uot;sticking your heads in the sand and doing nothing.&uot;

The commission has chosen, however, to seek a legislative solution to the problem.

According to Ellis, a local act creating nine districts with a rotating chairman would be acceptable to the courts.

If that act is not approved by the Legislature during this term, however, he said he expects a suit to be filed against the commission. In that case, the board may be forced to disband and immediately return to a four-member commission with the probate judge as chairman.

Ellis said the county’s legislative delegation must receive unanimous consent from the commission for a solution to the problem.

With the agreement reached on Monday, the commission will go forward with redistricting the county under a one-man, one-vote rule, to the dismay of Commissioner Dailey.

&uot;The at-large method of voting, or cumulative voting, would give a better chance for a minority to win a position,&uot; Dailey said.

Voting at-large would allow each person the chance to cast nine votes of any combination &045; one vote for nine commissioners, nine votes for one commissioner, five votes for one and four for another, three votes for one and six for another or any

other combination.

&uot;The nine biggest vote getters would be elected,&uot; Ellis said.

Dailey said at-large voting has been tried in several places.

&uot;In the state of Illinois, they did it for almost 100 years with the state legislature,&uot; he said. &uot;They did it in New Mexico, in Arizona and in about 20 municipalities in the state of Alabama.&uot;

Other members of the commission were not convinced, however.

Commissioner Ted Crockett questioned the alternatives fairness.

&uot;George, I think you’ve been a good commissioner. You’ve represented your district well,&uot; he said.

&uot;Districts hold representatives accountable to the interests of the voters. This commission wanted to establish district representation because it works better for the people who live in their district.

&uot;With at-large voting, the people are not represented fairly.&uot;

Commissioner Don Armstrong agreed.

&uot;I’ve run both ways on the county commission, and I have to agree with what Ted’s saying. Now, there’s more varied representation,&uot; he said.

Commission chairman Dan Acker referred to the county board of education which until recently, had three board members who lived within three miles of each other.

&uot;The district system distributes members throughout the county,&uot; he said.

Following an informal poll during which all the commissioners except Dailey voted against at-large voting in favor of districts, Ellis was instructed to prepare the legislation to send to the county’s Legislative Delegation