One of the early lessons my predecessor, Waldo Proffitt, taught me was this: State your opinions before an election but, once the ballots are counted, don't argue with local voters over the outcomes.
There is always room, he said, to offer commentary about the merits of measures and candidates once elections are over. But he warned against criticizing voters or questioning their motives after they made their decisions.
It was a good lesson on many levels. It emphasized bringing a degree of humility to the work of opinion journalism and recognized that there is little to be gained — in terms of readership, leadership and credibility — by stating, suggesting or implying that voters were ignorant or clueless.
Yet one of the constant criticisms of a ballot proposal to change the city of Sarasota's election schedule was that it would draw more voters who wouldn't quite understand the issues or know enough about candidates — or that they would gullibly believe campaign ads, and thus vote the wrong way.
There were sensible points to make in favor of and in opposition to the proposal, which was placed on the ballot due to the collection of 4,732 petition signatures — far more than were required. But the "uninformed voter" argument struck me as elitist and demonstrated a distrust of the electorate.
The measure passed, with 63 percent of city voters in favor.
Apparently they knew enough about the proposal to conclude that having more voters, rather than fewer, participate in city elections was an overdue change.
Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties also decided to make significant changes in the way they elect members of key boards. In Sarasota County, 59.8 percent favored an amendment to the county charter that will result in single-member County Commission districts; in Manatee, 51 percent supported a proposal to make the same change to School Board districts. (Currently, the five members of both boards are supposed to reside in specific districts but they are elected by voters countywide; under the changes, members will be elected by only the voters in their district.)
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board, of which I'm a member, didn't support either single-member district proposal — in part because they will reduce to one from five the number of board members or commissioners selected by each voter.
But voters deserved to have their say, and they said: give us single-member districts. Rather than criticize that outcome, I (and members of the affected governing boards) should strive for a better understanding of those decisions.
Tom Tryon is opinion editor.