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Feelings split on district voting among Gainesville council candidates
Most current council members still support at-large system
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African-American and Latino political organizers, including local civil rights leaders and students from the University of North Georgia, have rallied in recent months to call for replacing Gainesville’s current at-large electoral system with a district voting process.

Proponents believe district voting is more equitable and will ensure minority candidates are elected to the City Council because only voters in a particular geographic area would be allowed to select a candidate to represent their ward.

That is the same system used to elect members to the city school board and Hall County Board of Commissioners.

Most City Council members defend the at-large voting process, advocating for citywide representation rather than by street, subdivision or specific demographic community.

But with three council races this November drawing a number of candidates, this dynamic could soon change.

The Times asked each candidate to state their position on the at-large debate.


Ward 5

Ruth Bruner

Background: Has served on Gainesville City Council for 12 years. Running unopposed.

‘I am willing to look at it. And I think eventually it will need to change when demographics are different in the city. I can see advantages both ways. I want to be interested in everybody’s ward. On the other hand, I can see that a ward may have a candidate that they know is best and they want to elect but the whole city at-large would not necessarily ... select that one.’


Ward 2

Zack Thompson

Background: Co-owner of Professional Touch Landscapes and Tap It Gainesville Growlers

‘I don’t think (district voting is) right for Gainesville at this time. We need to concentrate on getting our community to the polls through education and registration. If we can be successful at that, then representation will be a moot point until our city grows large enough to properly address creating minority districts.’


Emory Turner

Background: Serves with Gainesville Housing Authority and Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

‘My running for Ward 2 gives the citizens of Gainesville a chance to prove that at-large voting works.’


Ward 3

Barbara Brooks

Background: Social worker who retired from the Gainesville City School System in June.

‘By using (at-large voting) … Gainesville makes each council member accountable to the citizens of every ward. I believe this system has been examined by the District Court and twice by the Justice System and those two bodies have found no injustice in the at-large system as it applies to Gainesville. ... I don’t feel disenfranchised with this system. I like it that if my council member is unavailable or not listening to me that I can go to any or all of the others and someone will hear my concerns.’


Andrè Cheek

Background: Works with the Department of Juvenile Justice as an outreach unit program coordinator.

‘I support district voting because the people in a district have a better chance of electing the candidate they choose. With at-large voting, people may not feel they have a reason to vote because it has the potential to be abusive. For example, a large precinct could cancel out a smaller precincts’ voting block and control the entire process.’



Lemuel Betancourt

Background: Works in project management roles for electrical industry staffing firm.

‘Instead of imposing my view on this topic, I would rather put the question to a referendum on the ballot during a regularly-scheduled election in 2016, to let the voters decide for themselves.’


Monteen Whelchel-Smith

Background: Associate Minister at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville

‘I’m still formulating (my opinion). It’s a process that all the citizens need to focus on and understand what it means. If it’s ‘we the people,’ I think and I honestly believe that people ought to have a voice. We are the government.’

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