As Jo Lee Beaty campaigns for the District 2 Gainesville Commission seat, she said she encounters lots of voters who aren’t aware of the city’s redistricting changes and don’t know their district may have changed.
“I talk to bright, educated people, and they don’t know this was done,” Beaty said in a telephone interview.
Beaty herself initially filed to run in District 3, but like many Gainesville residents finds herself in a new district and had to refile to run in the redrawn District 2, which is currently represented by Commissioner Harvey Ward.
Beaty said she has conversations with potential voters that reflect that confusion: “They say, ‘Oh sure, I will vote for you,’ and I say ‘I see you live in Raintree, and Raintree is now in District 4.’ They are confused [and ask]: ‘But aren’t you running for Harvey Ward’s district?’ ”
District boundaries are redrawn at the state and local levels after every U.S. Census.
Following this year’s redistricting process, Alachua County was divided among three Florida House districts and two Florida Senate districts. Even area incumbents, like Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Yvonne Hinson, are running in state legislative districts with altered borders and new numbers.
Gainesville finalized its new commission district borders in May – making substantive changes to the three districts up for election in August – but that doesn’t mean Gainesville’s nearly 80,000 registered voters have followed the process closely.
“People don’t know now what district they are in,” Beaty said.
But help is on the way in the form of a new voter information card, according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office. The cards will update each Alachua County voter’s information on the Florida House and Senate districts they are in and let Gainesville voters know which city commission district they will vote in.
“The voter information card really is just an informational resource for voters to help prepare them for who represents them, and what districts they reside in,” said Aaron Klein, the elections office’s director of communication and outreach.
Currently other local races like the Alachua County School Board and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners are voted on countywide, so district changes would not affect who appears on the ballot in August or November.
Alachua County falls completely within U.S. Congressional District 3, so that race will be on all the ballots as well.
The updated cards should arrive in the mailboxes of Alachua County’s more than 178,000 registered voters within a couple of weeks. It cost the Supervisor of Elections office $31,000 to print the new cards.
“Our goal always was to get them to voters with plenty of time to review that information before the August primary,” Klein said.
Klein said the election office did want to emphasize that the new cards are informational but are not an official form of ID, and that people will still need to bring a photo and signature ID with them to the polls.
But the updated voter information cards also are a chance for voters to check that the name and address on file with the elections office are correct and matches their ID.
Klein said that if voters haven’t gotten their new cards by July 20, they may want to call the elections office (352-374-5252) and/or check their status online. July 25 is the deadline to register to vote or change party affiliation before the August elections.
The Gainesville municipal elections have moved to the August primary date and the mayoral and three commission races along with the four Alachua County School Board races and the open Eighth Judicial Circuit judgeship race are non-partisan. The number of nonpartisan contests means that even the nearly 45,000 Alachua voters who are not registered as Democrats or Republicans will have several races to vote in.
Florida is a closed primary system so people must be registered for a particular political party by July 25 to cast votes on that portion of the ballots, so double-checking party affiliation on the new voter information card is important, Klein said.
The newly redrawn state and municipal districts meant Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office also had to revise precinct boundaries.
With new precinct boundaries, come some new polling locations as well. Eleven polling places were changed and a 12th location was added as the result of precinct changes caused by redistricting.
For example, the Gainesville Shrine Club on Archer Road used to be the polling place for precinct 58, but will now serve as the voting location for precinct 18. And Kanapaha Presbyterian Church on Southwest 75 Terrace will switch and become the new polling place for precinct 58.
Forest Grove Baptist Church in Alachua was added as a new polling place when new precinct 64 was created as part of redistricting.
In addition, five other precincts will change to new permanent polling locations in non-redistricting related moves.
If voters don’t have a card and need to access their information, including registration status, party affiliation, districts, precincts and polling place, they can go to Votealachua.com and click on the MyRegistration tab on the menu bar.