JONESBORO — Voters within the Jonesboro city limits will decide a ballot issue as part of the May 24 primary elections.
If approved, Position 1 council members would be elected only by voters who live within their specific geographic wards, beginning with this year’s general election. The city’s 80 square miles are divided into six wards, and each is supposed to have approximately the same population.
Position 2 council members would continue to be elected citywide.
Council members are elected to four-year terms. L.J. Bryant, who proposed the change last year, said electing council members by ward rather than citywide would make it affordable for more potential candidates to run for the position.
Bryant, a business owner, spent $27,017 in 2018 to win a full four-year term, his campaign contribution and expenditure report showed.
David McAvoy is a leader of For Ward Jonesboro, an organization registered with the Arkansas Ethics Commission to campaign in favor of the proposal.
“I first became interested in the issue back in 2010 when I learned about some of the issues with at-large voting from people who had been pushing for a change to ward election here for years,” McAvoy told The Sun. “A lot of people don’t realize that with at-large voting the person you and your neighbors elect to represent the ward you live on is not guaranteed to represent you if someone else can get enough votes from elsewhere in the city. Your councilman should be elected by the people that actually live in the ward they represent. That’s democracy 101.”
McAvoy also cited the expense involved in campaigning for a council seat.
“ … That’s concerning both because of whose voices and concerns will be shut out of the process – ordinary folks without a lot of money – and because more money in politics is as a general rule always a bad thing,” he said. “It also means that as the city grows, it’s harder and harder to hold the person who’s supposed to be accountable to the issues in your neighborhood accountable.”
Roy Ockert Jr., a retired editor of The Sun, said in a recent column that he researched the issue in 2020 on behalf of then-Mayor Harold Perrin and found there had been at least three failed efforts to allow for by-ward voting between 1976 and 1982.
McAvoy points out that the proposal to elect half the council members by ward and the other half at large is a compromise.
“So if people aren’t comfortable with full ward, what I’d say to them is try this compromise out and see how it works,” McAvoy said. “At the end of the day, the guarantee of direct representation, of less money in politics and a more even playing field for regular people to make their concerns heard, and more attention to issues in our neighborhoods will be a benefit to all of us in Jonesboro.”