City could get second minority-majority district

The Gainesville City Commission on Thursday approved a preliminary redistricting map that would create two minority-majority districts in the city in advance of the August election.

As part of its regular biweekly meeting, the commission gave UF professors Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith, who are consulting on the redistricting, the go-ahead on one of the three alternatives they presented.

The city is required to undergo redistricting every 10 years after new U.S. Census data has been released. Since October, Smith and McDonald have held a series of redistricting meetings and solicited citizens to redraw maps using the DistrictBuilder website.

They first presented the three options at the Feb. 17 commission meeting, but the commission delayed making a selection until they had more time to look at maps.

The commission unanimously voted Thursday morning to move forward with the “Option 3” map, which Smith and McDonald nicknamed the community map.

The community map option creates more compact districts, and in doing so makes more changes to the districts than either option 1 or option 2. As part of the community map option, District 4, which includes UF, goes from being spread out to being more squared off between Southwest 34th Street and Northwest 6th Street.

Under the plan, precinct 27, which contains the Duckpond area, would move from District 4 into District 1.

Redistricting option 3

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, who holds an at-large seat, said initially she was concerned that moving white voters from the Duckpond into District 1 would dilute that district’s traditional black voting bloc.

However, the community map option would increase the District 1 black voting age population to 40.5 percent from the current 37.2 percent. It would also change District 3 from a district that is 57.3 percent white to one that is 46.2 percent white, while raising both the black and Hispanic voting age population.

“[The community map option] creates not only something that meets the criteria and the goal today, but I think it will be sustainable over the decade that we’ll have these maps,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.

Election law requires the city population to be divided into four roughly equal districts. The district sizes cannot vary by more than 10 percent, and the commission’s goal was to keep that variance under 3 percent.

Under the community map model, the city’s four districts would have approximately 35,000 residents each, and the variations in population size would be less than 1 percent.

Because of population growth patterns since the last redistricting, District 4 currently has about 37,000 residents while District 2 has closer to 32,500 residents.

The current population imbalance was part of the reason that Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who represents District 4, wanted the redistricting to apply to the upcoming commission election in August.

“Delaying it will, I believe, disenfranchise voters because our districts are out of whack right now,” Hayes-Santos said. “To have another election where the districts are not in line, would be a disservice to our community.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward, who represents District 2, had urged his fellow commissioners to delay implementing new districts because people had already registered to run for seats in Districts 2, 3 and 4 and could have to change seats.

Ward, Hayes-Santos and Commissioner David Arreola, the District 3 representative, are term-limited, and cannot rerun for their districts, so redistricting does not affect them. The two at-large seats and the District 1 seat are not up for re-election this year.

Despite Ward’s concerns, the commission plans to finalize the new maps in May and apply the new district boundaries to the August election.

However, the new city map cannot be finalized until the congressional boundaries are set by the Florida Legislature. The state House and Senate seat boundaries and U.S. congressional maps must be factored into the drawing of Alachua County election precincts, and as a result will affect the city’s final district boundaries, Smith and McDonald said.

The options for congressional districts include at least one option that splits Gainesville into two. And McDonald told the commission at its February meeting that the congressional district debate could throw “a big monkey wrench” into the city’s redistricting process.

While the state continues to debate over congressional boundaries, the commission’s decision Thursday does give the two professors direction as they work with Alachua County election officials on the precincts.

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