The Gainesville City Commission will vote May 5 on the first reading of an ordinance to reset its district boundaries, but commissioners made one additional change to the map on Thursday.
Election laws require that the city and state undergo redistricting after each U.S. Census to adjust for changes to the population. Because of shifts over the last decade, Gainesville’s voting age citizenry is unevenly distributed over the city’s four districts.
The city has been looking at potential maps of new district boundaries since February. It has made several adjustments to those maps over that time period, including preserving the historically black District 1 and creating a second minority-majority district in District 3.
The city commission has been waiting on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to agree to new voting precincts before finalizing the city changes. On Tuesday, the BOCC approved the precincts, drawn by the supervisor of elections.
The Florida Legislature’s redistricting effort split Gainesville along both state House and Senate lines, which prompted major changes to the county’s voting precincts. The new precincts, in turn, have complicated the city’s efforts to redraw its districts.
Gainesville has historically defined its districts by describing which voting precincts make up which city district, rather than defining the district boundaries by something like road names, said Daniel Nee, the interim city attorney.
Both the BOCC and Kim Barton, the supervisor of elections, have asked that the commission not split voting precincts between city districts, Nee said.
Split precincts make elections more difficult to administer when people in the same voting precinct have to be given different ballots.
Gainesville already has precincts that are split by the city’s borders, but none that are split between city districts, Nee said.
But the latest change to Gainesville’s district map would change that, splitting precinct 25 between District 1 and District 4.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who represents District 4, said splitting precinct 25 would allow the Fifth Avenue and Pleasant Street neighborhoods to remain in District 1 and the Oakview and Grove Street neighborhoods to remain in District 4.
“That I think makes everyone happy,” Hayes-Santos said. “We get a map that I think can pass.”
The latest map change cuts the precinct along Northwest Eighth Avenue, with the area north of Eighth Avenue in District 4 and the area south of Eighth Avenue in District 1.
The commission approved the split precinct Thursday 6-0 with Mayor Lauren Poe absent from that portion of the meeting.
Although he voted for the latest map, Commissioner Harvey Ward said he was disappointed that changes he had requested in precincts 50 and 17 to keep some neighborhoods together had not materialized.
“If I know about a problem because it’s on my street, I wonder how many things are out there that we don’t know about,” Ward said.
He criticized the way the city had gathered public input after the initial maps were presented. At a March meeting, Ward had asked for “an opportunity to get it out in front of the public in a way that’s not in a meeting here in our auditorium.”
On Thursday he again suggested the city needed to have solicited more structured community comment.
“We have been so detail focused, that we… have not done a good job of including the people of Gainesville in the process,” Ward said. “I will vote for this to move it forward, but I don’t feel good about our process.”
UF political science professors and redistricting consultants Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith will make a formal presentation of the redistricting effort to the city on May 5 during the city’s regular commission meeting.
The city’s intent is to get the district boundaries set before the official qualifying period in June for the August election, Nee said.