An Argument Against Single Member District Voting

By Barney Blakeney

In the wake of the November 6 general elections that shown a spotlight on polarized politics perhaps more than any in recent memory, reflections on statements made by the late W. Earl Douglas may offer some insight.

Several weeks ago, former Charleston County Council Chairman Lonnie Hamilton, III provided this reporter with copies of editorial comments made by the late newspaper columnist and Mount Pleasant resident published in 1977.

In Charleston County where about 150,000 voters cast ballots in several highly contentious races, Douglas’ comments seem to resonate some 40 years later. In a correspondence to Hamilton in in June 1977, he challenged the benefits of single member district voting to Black citizens.

“If our folks would truly give some serious thought to what single member district really means beyond the election of a few more Blacks to office, we could make some progress in this country,” he wrote. “We have glory seekers rather than power seekers… political power without economic power is no power at all,” he said and offered, “By investing in businesses we wouldn’t need to go begging for jobs or raise hell when we get laid off from work… We haven’t made a hell of a lot of progress in the past 77 years.”

In the columns Douglas shared with Hamilton, Douglas wrote that single member districts are part of a fantasy of legislated morality, equality and (civil) rights some view as ‘justice’. But he countered that the plan only achieved the election “of a few more Blacks”. A decade after single member districts were introduced in other communities “we still have 22 percent unemployment,” he wrote.

Sarcastically he added, “Ah but the tide has changed! No longer are Black folks going to be fooled with promises of integration – single member districts are going to guarantee us full, unconditional and permanent political segregation – it will assure us fixed percentages in the political processes of our government and total exclusion from the total community as we will be allowed only to vote for ‘our’ Black representatives in ‘our’ Black districts.”

The concept of single member districts shatter reason and defies the logic of representative government, Douglas wrote. “In truth the plan defeats the very reason for which it was made possible. While voting rights legislation was supposed to integrate polling booths, single member districts resegregate them. What that is going to cost us and our children may indeed be dear. Before we leap into the waters of political fantasy, Blacks should carefully examine the reason the plan is being presented,” he cautioned.

Douglas questioned whether single member districts would dilute Black voting strength. He attributed the advocacy of single member districts to “loud-mouthed Black community demagogues who have as much interest in their fellow Americans as a wino has in water.”

Douglas predicted single member districts would provide Blacks with full, unconditional and permanent political segregation. “Only a fool could believe that our country can exist with total polarization of the races. This country can only survive and prosper with leadership that has an interest in the entire country,” he said. Characterizing single member districts he added, “Discriminating against all voters has the planned result of placing Blacks on par with the majority – which is exactly like shooting the dog to get rid of the fleas.”

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