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City commission moves forward with Hayes-Santos’ map that “preserves the legacy seat” in District 1

Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton speaks to the Gainesville City Commission on March 28

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Gainesville City Commission held a Special Meeting on March 28 with Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton and decided to hold another Special Meeting on Thursday, March 31, to consider a redistricting map designed to preserve the “legacy seat” in District 1.

At their March 17 meeting, the commission had asked Barton to meet with them before they made any decisions about new city commission districts. Barton joined the commission for the first part of the March 28 meeting but said she already had other things scheduled for that afternoon and couldn’t stay long.

Barton said she was “disturbed” by the city commission’s March 17 meeting because “I have never had an adversarial relationship with anyone on this commission, and I’ve always been amenable to anything that you all have brought up to me… I have always provided you all with professional courtesy… and I just want to have that same professional courtesy returned to me, as well. The tone of some things were… it just really surprised me. There were comments made of something that I said, I didn’t say.”

Barton explained that she had hoped the March 2021 Gainesville City election would be the last standalone election, and after that, her employees had planned vacations and then redistricting, but then her Chief Deputy Will Boyett, who usually did redistricting, tragically died. Then Gail Johnson resigned from the city commission, and Barton’s office was asked to run a Special Election for Johnson’s city commission seat. She said she took that on, as she always does, but she had one request: a winner-take-all election. However, the city commission voted that down, and a run-off election also had to be held. Her office has lost more employees since that time, and she continued, “Elections is hard right now. Elections is very hard. And I can tell you from talking to other Supervisors across the state, a lot of them are saying they’re not running again… But we keep pressing on.”

Barton said the City has always followed the precinct lines determined by the Supervisor’s office, going back through at least the past four Supervisors. She also said the City’s redistricting consultant had contacted her office late in the process and that the City consultant’s comments about Barton’s consultant had been incorrect because she doesn’t use a consultant; she uses a firm that geocodes the voters. Then her office looks at the maps and draws the precincts. 

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“I hope people will hear this and know that we’re in need of polling places. Maybe they can reach out to me if they have some ideas.” – Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton

Barton said that because of population growth, she will need to add a new precinct, which means she has to find a new polling place, on top of losing two former polling places: “I hope people will hear this and know that we’re in need of polling places. Maybe they can reach out to me if they have some ideas.”

Mike Bruckman, Barton’s Vote-by-Mail Ballot Coordinator, presented some maps showing their new districts, some of which are significantly changed from the current map. 

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos then presented a map he had worked on that followed Barton’s precinct lines except for splits in two precincts. 

“Duck Pond votes very heavily. They have a very high turnout. And the student area, east Sorority Row area, has a lot of people… but very, very low voter turnout.  So that allows District 1 to have a more minority-access district.” – Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos

Hayes-Santos said he also took into account “actual people who turned out to vote in the 2020 August election; this map would have 54% turnout for black voters and 34% white. The previous proposal [from our consultants would have] 44% black and 46% white.” He said he was able to increase the number of black voters by adding Sorority Row and taking out the Duck Pond: “Duck Pond votes very heavily. They have a very high turnout. And the student area, east Sorority Row area, has a lot of people… but very, very low voter turnout.  So that allows District 1 to have a more minority-access district.”

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she liked Hayes-Santos’ map because “it preserves the legacy seat. I’m very concerned that we keep that legacy seat.” She was also glad that the Stephen Foster neighborhood was no longer split between city commission districts.

Barton said Hayes-Santos’ map was “workable” but that she wanted to look at it more closely. She added that she couldn’t make a decision based on a map on the overhead but said if they sent her the map by email, she would look at it.

Commissioner Harvey Ward was concerned that the new map “has not had any vetting from the community, and that is a big deal.” He wanted to have a meeting for community engagement that wasn’t in City Hall, and he wanted organizations like the NAACP and neighborhood groups to have a chance to look at the new map. 

Hayes-Santos proposed a Special Meeting on Thursday to give time for the Supervisor to look at the map and allow time to make any changes before the first reading of the redistricting ordinance on April 7. He then made a motion to tentatively move forward with the proposed map, have the Special Meeting on March 31, and schedule the first reading of the ordinance for April 7.

“I look at what’s happening at the state level, and it makes me very afraid, very worried… But we see the state administration apparently trying to establish at least one chamber that reimagines the Jim Crow legislature. So I was hoping to be sure that couldn’t happen here.” – Kali Blount, public comment

During public comment, Kali Blount said he was glad to hear Chestnut “speak about the legacy district and preserving that. Because I look at what’s happening at the state level, and it makes me very afraid, very worried… But we see the state administration apparently trying to establish at least one chamber that reimagines the Jim Crow legislature. So I was hoping to be sure that couldn’t happen here.” Blount thought Thursday was too soon to realistically get the word out to the community.

“We have to do everything that we can to protect the integrity of minority access.” – State Senate Candidate Rodney Long

Rodney Long, who is running for the State Senate, said that single-member districts were enacted in Gainesville “because African-Americans felt that they did not have access to the ballot box.” He said that “there was nothing in the charter amendment that said, oh, by the way, we have to protect District 1 because that’s the African-American legacy seat. Although it’s not written there, that’s why we got single-member districting. We have to do everything that we can to protect the integrity of minority access.” 

Long was glad that Hayes-Santos had found a way to move the Duck Pond out of District 1 because it’s “probably the most active voting precinct in the City limits… as liberal as it is, one day, if it remained in this particular district, [it] could upset the whole concept of District 1.” He agreed with Hayes-Santos’ idea of bringing in a low-voting-participation student district: “If that’s the strategy we need to use to protect District 1, then that’s what y’all need to approve.”

The motion passed unanimously.

A link to the proposed map and more information about how to give feedback can be found here

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