Gainesville ponders 3 different election maps

Gainesville got its first look Thursday at three potential versions of the city’s election map as part of the city’s ongoing redistricting effort.

The city is required to undergo redistricting after every census, and the 2020 data was released in September 2021. The commission has until December to approve new boundaries for its four voting districts.

Election consultants from UF have been working with city staff and conducting mapping seminars for the public since October. The consultants, Daniel Smith and Michael McDonald, presented three draft versions of the map to the commission during its regular meeting on Thursday.

The first option, dubbed the minimal change option, keeps the districts mostly as they are. Under option 1, the portion of Precinct 7 north of Northwest 16th Avenue would be moved from District 4 to District 2 and a portion of Precinct 22 west of Northwest 43rd Street would move from District 2 to District 3.

Redistricting option 1

However, one goal of the redistricting effort is to divide the city’s population roughly equally among the four districts. Election laws allow cities to have as much as a 10 percent difference between the size of voting districts, but Gainesville has asked that the new maps have no more than 3 percent difference in population between the districts.

The minimal change option meets the legal standards but not the city’s goals for population distribution, McDonald said Thursday.

The second option, which the consultants called the public concept map, incorporated mapping suggestions submitted to the city by members of the public. McDonald said that while people had drawn 66 voting maps as part of the public workshops, only seven maps had been submitted to the city.

Redistricting option 2

Option 2 makes more changes to the city map, moving multiple precincts from one district to another, including swapping Precincts 25 and 27. Precinct 27 (currently in District 4) would move to District 1 and Precinct 25 (currently in District 1) would move to District 4.

This public concept option would bring the districts in line with the city’s population goals, and would involve minimal swapping and splitting of current precincts, McDonald said. It was the option that he and Smith recommended to the city because it met several redistricting goals without being disruptive.

It also increases the percentage of black voting-age population in District 1 from the current 37.2 percent to 38.1 percent. The minimal change option did not alter the percentage.

One of the other aims of the city’s redistricting effort is to not dilute racial or language group minorities, so increasing the percent of potential black voters in District 1 supports this goal.

The third option, nicknamed the community option, was developed by McDonald and Smith and makes larger changes to the four districts, including converting District 4—which includes UF—to more of a midtown block between Southwest 34th Street and Northwest 6th Street, bordered on the south by Archer Road and the north by Northwest 39th Avenue.

Redistricting option 3

Option 3 increases the black voting-age population to 40.5 percent in District 1 and creates a minority-majority voting area in District 3 by increasing both black and Hispanic voters in that district.

“The [option 3] map makes some larger changes to the district cores than the map I just presented, but it’s also going to accomplish some of the other goals,” McDonald said. “It’s a tradeoff between goals.”

Commissioner Reina Saco, who holds an at-large commission seat, said Thursday that she prefers the third option map because of the changes to District 1 and District 3.

“It achieves a lot of goals that we are pushing towards, especially in the sense of racial justice and access to government,” Saco said.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who represents District 4 but is term-limited, said Thursday that he supports the third option because it is more compact and eliminates what he described as a “gerrymandered” District 4. He also said he supports option 3’s creation of another potential minority coalition district.

“We have three commissioners that are term-limited out, so there’s not a concern of putting someone into a different district and things like that,” Hayes-Santos said. “We have an ability to reset things and make districts how they should be versus trying to gerrymander commissioners into certain places.”

Like Hayes-Santos, District 2 Commissioner Harvey Ward and District 3 Commissioner David Arreola are term-limited for their current seats. However, Ward and Arreola have both filed to run for mayor, something that Hayes-Santos said Thursday he would not do.

Arreola said he wouldn’t be voting for option 3 because in addition to creating a racial plurality in District 3, it also would increase Districts 2 and 4 to more than 67 percent white voting-age population.

“I don’t think it’s in the city’s best interest to create two districts that have over 65% white population, basically taking black and Hispanic voters from other districts and moving [them] around,” Arreola said.

Ward and Mayor Lauren Poe, who is also term-limited, said they wanted to hear more reaction from citizens to the maps before voicing a preference. District 1 Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker and newly sworn-in at-large Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut did not discuss their map preferences on Thursday.

The commission will need to give their UF consultants more direction about their map preference at the next commission meeting on March 3 because Smith and McDonald will need to work with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections to set district boundaries that match new precinct boundaries.

Those new precinct boundaries will be influenced by the way in which the Florida Legislature draws its state House and Senate districts and congressional districts.

One proposal for Florida’s U.S. congressional districts would split Gainesville’s voters and wrangling over the congressional districts could throw a “big monkey wrench” into the city’s redistricting process if the congressional boundaries get challenged, McDonald said.

The UF consulting team hopes to have the city’s map finalized in May. Until then the city commission has asked the professors to return to each biweekly commission meeting to provide updates.

Smith and McDonald consultants also will host another public engagement session from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Cone Park Branch of the Alachua County Library District (2801 E. University Ave.).

Gainesville residents interested in the redistricting process and the mapping process can also join Saturday’s meeting via home computers or smartphones. A Zoom link to the meeting is posted on the city’s redistricting web site.

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