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Narrow margin okays commission changes

Pinellas County approves single-member districts; the election had one of the lowest voter turnouts in 40 years.

By JOE NEWMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 1999


Pinellas County voters narrowly approved single-member districts for their county commission on Tuesday, though the election is headed for an automatic recount today.

The measure, which expands the commission by two members -- with four elected from districts and three elected countywide -- won by 13 votes, or about one-hundredth of a percent. State law requires a recount for all elections decided by one-half of 1 percent or less. The election attracted 8.1 percent of the county's registered voters, which makes it one of the lowest election turnouts in almost 40 years. The lowest turnout since 1962 was for a primary runoff election in 1988, when 6.6 percent of the registered voters participated.

A second issue on the ballot that allows county officials to recommend charter amendments without legislative oversight also passed, 64 percent to 36 percent.

The results were a victory for civil rights activists who have fought for single-member districts for years. A last-ditch campaign by a group of St. Petersburg civic activists may have proved to be the difference.

"I think the effort that we did make -- it got some votes out," said Perkins T. Shelton, a civil rights leader who has called for single-member districts for years.

Supporters of single-member districts say the system will give black candidates a greater chance at winning a seat on the commission, or at least it will give black residents a greater voice with their commissioner.

Black people make up about 6 percent of the county's registered voters, but a St. Petersburg district can be drawn with more than 20 percent black voters.

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