Gainesville is inviting citizens to help redraw its City Commission districts by using a mapping tool a UF professor developed.
The city is divided into four districts, and per the city charter, the district boundaries must be re-examined after every U.S. Census. Gainesville officially opened this process to local citizens last week with an invitation to draw up their best version of the city map.
The commission is hoping to have the new district maps close to final form by February 2022 and is hoping to approve the new district maps by the end of May 2022, city officials said.
If they can approve new district maps in May, the city can use the maps during the fall 2022 elections.
“Voters do notice which City Commission district they are voting in, and I think they ought to know well in advance,” Commissioner David Arreola said at a General Policy Committee meeting in September.
Although the commission will start examining map options and holding public meetings about the district map in January and February 2022, the commission can’t approve final maps until the state has set Congressional and state legislative districts and the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections has finalized voter precincts based on the state’s redistricting.
Gainesville last went through redistricting in 2012, using data from the 2010 census. The city will use census data from 2020 for this redistricting effort.
To help engage the public and make the process of redistricting more transparent, the city has contracted with UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research to analyze the 2020 data and help with setting new boundaries.
Daniel Smith, the chair of the political science department who helped with the 2012 redistricting, and Michael McDonald, a professor of political science who specializes in voter turnout, will work with the city as part of the contract.
The city will utilize DistrictBuilder software—developed by McDonald—to collect input from the public about potential district boundaries.
“[After] working with commissions and state governments across the country, I decided it was really important to have public participation so that we could have greater transparency in the redistricting process,” said McDonald, who first designed the mapping tool about 10 years ago.
Members of the public can log into Gainesville’s DistrictBuilder website and turn their suggestions into proposed maps. The public can then submit the link to their proposed maps to the city via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As we go through the process of redistricting, we’ll try to take all those public comments into account as we come up with these three scenarios for the commission to consider adopting and moving forward on,” McDonald said in a webinar on the DistrictBuilder mapping tool.
Although the public can use the tool to make lots of changes to their version of a city map, Sean McDermott, a senior assistant city attorney, said new district maps should follow certain guidelines.
These are the same guidelines the commission will be following in establishing new district boundaries.
“This tool is really exciting because it allows the public to play around with the actual election districts in the City of Gainesville,” McDermott said.
The two most important criteria are that each district should have roughly the same number of voters, and districts shouldn’t be drawn in such a way that they dilute racial or language group minorities, McDermott said in the webinar.
Other things to consider when drawing districts, McDermott said: making the districts as compact as possible, including continuous territory in each district, respecting natural boundaries such as water bodies and highways, and respecting the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts as well as voting precincts and census blocks.
Well-drawn districts wouldn’t split existing communities such as neighborhoods and historic districts and would maintain current districts as much as possible, he said.
Mayor Lauren Poe said in the earlier GPC meeting: “My goal has been, and will continue to be, achieving two priorities. Obviously, one is the sort of legal requirement that each district has roughly the same number of people. The second is to maintain as closely as possible a minority-majority district and that we keep the districts as close to what they look like now because people identify with their district.”
The city has posted the webinar session with McDermott and McDonald to its redistricting page. The redistricting page is also where people can access the DistrictBuilder tool and a longer discussion of the guidelines for redistricting.