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The city of St. Petersburg’s current at-large runoff election system gravely impairs the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of choice, denying Black residents the opportunity to equally participate in the political process. Moreover, rather than combining the benefits of at-large and district elections, the current system marries the worst elements of both, with non-sensical and anti-democratic results. On behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and American Civil Liberties Union, we urge you to select an alternative to the current election cycle when it comes before you this November.
Specifically, we express our support for a nine single-member district plan, with the new district encompassing majority-minority neighborhoods. As the city grows, so should City Council. Such a structure would greatly enhance the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of choice, while preserving neighborhood representation and making city elections more accessible for all voters. Based on our research, with community members, demographic data analysis and review of recent elections and registration statistics, a 9-district plan will go the furthest in remedying the discriminatory effects of the current system. As a second-best alternative, we support an 8/1 mixed plan with eight single-member districts and one new at-large seat.
Based on our analysis, no other alternative currently under discussion would result in a more equitable election system. We urge you to reject any other proposal. The current at-large general election voting system permits voters not in the majority-Black districts to vote for the representatives in majority-Black districts, Black candidates competing against white candidates in those districts tend to lose. Since the 1960s, courts have ruled that many at-large voting systems violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I humbly ask you to consider supporting fair elections in St. Petersburg. We must work together to ensure that our city elections maintain integrity, structure and racial equity. We must work in together to ensure that every vote is counted and every voice is heard.