State redistricting complicates city efforts

The city’s redistricting effort has hit a snag because of the way the Florida Legislature redistricted the state House and Senate districts, UF consultants told the Gainesville City Commission on Thursday.

At its last meeting, the city authorized UF professors Daniel Smith and Michael McDonald to move forward with a map that rebalanced its four city commission districts and created a second potential minority-majority district.

Smith and McDonald began talking to Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton about the potential new city maps, but said the election office doesn’t yet have new voting precinct maps.

The consultants said Barton intends to redraw the county’s voting precincts based on new state House and Senate boundaries. Smith said the problem is that the new House seat boundaries are gerrymandered and split existing precincts.

For example, District 1’s precinct 25 is split between two House districts and two Senate districts under the new state maps.

“We have looked at other areas across the state when it came to state legislative redistricting, and Alachua got the raw end of the deal when it came to splitting existing boundaries,” McDonald told the commission at its regular meeting Thursday.

Smith estimated that Barton will have to redraw around half of the county’s voting districts because of changes to the state legislative boundaries.

Redrawing the precincts is necessary so that the elections office wouldn’t have to develop multiple ballots for each precinct, Smith said.

For example, the state changes alone would mean precinct 25 would require four separate ballots if the current precinct boundaries were left in place.

The redrawing of precinct boundaries affects the city’s redistricting efforts because the commission wants to avoid splitting precincts with its city district boundaries. Smith and McDonald presented a potential modification to the city’s chosen map based on Barton’s stated precinct changes.

Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee and interim City Manager Cynthia Curry

However, the way the Legislature draws House and Senate boundaries will require a modification to the city’s proposed districts, which displeased city commissioners.

“I very much like the map that we approved,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “I would like as little changes to that as possible… We need to make sure we are working together [with Barton], but let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.”

The commissioners debated—and ultimately rejected—a plan to postpone the redistricting effort until after the August city election, which corresponds with Florida’s primary election.

One problem with waiting to finalize the city’s redistricting efforts was that Barton will redraw the precincts before the election, and the city charter defines the city’s voting districts based on the precincts from the last redistricting in 2012, said interim City Attorney Daniel Nee.

Redistricting option 3

“If we did nothing, there will be new precincts,” Nee said. “There will be split precincts and there could be extreme splits.”

Mayor Lauren Poe said his concern was that postponing the city’s redistricting effort, which is required after every U.S. Census, would mean continuing to have unbalanced districts.

Election law requires the city to be divided into roughly equal voting districts. The map the commission approved on March 3 would have divided the city into four districts with approximately 35,000 residents each.

Under the current city map, District 4 currently has about 37,000 residents while District 2 has closer to 32,500 residents.

“We will continue with the disenfranchisement and disproportional representation that our current precincts represent,” Poe said. “There’s harm to voters in this upcoming city election by us doing nothing because some precincts are much larger than others.”

The commission voted unanimously to set up a workshop with Barton on redrawing of city precincts and will take up redistricting again at a special meeting on March 28.

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