HomeLocal governmentFrustration on redistricting leads city commission to ask for meeting with Supervisor of Elections before deciding on new districts
Frustration on redistricting leads city commission to ask for meeting with Supervisor of Elections before deciding on new districts
March 20, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
At their March 17 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission discussed options for drawing new city commission districts based on the 2020 census and expressed frustration with the legislature and sympathy with a short-staffed Supervisor of Elections before deciding to ask the Supervisor to meet with them before they draw their final maps.
The consultants hired by the City from the University of Florida, Dr. Michael McDonald and Dr. Daniel Smith, said they had met with the Supervisor of Elections since their last presentation to the city commission, and Supervisor Kim Barton told them she intends to draw new precincts that conform with the new state legislative districts because the new legislative districts split some of the existing precincts. They said Barton also preferred that the new city commission districts not split precincts because it costs her office extra money to create two different city commission ballots for one precinct.
The consultants also said that Barton has “not really started on reprecincting” because she “has had severe staffing attrition.” The consultant had the sense that Alachua County is not a high priority for Barton’s redistricting consultant, who is working for multiple counties across the state.
“We are conforming to the House map, which is a gerrymander, there’s no question about it. But it’s doing so in order to help the electability of an African-American on the east side of Gainesville.” – Dr. Daniel Smith
McDonald said that when the legislature drew the new State House District 21, “they were trying to draw that district to help an African-American candidate choice for District 21… The legislature came in and carved out the white areas… that are to the east of the campus there.” He said there would likely have to be a new “pretty ugly” precinct in that area to accommodate the new legislative lines. Smith said the new legislative lines would help “with respect to your goals of being able to have a District 1 that… has now even a higher percentage of black-voting-age population than our concept map, and that’s because we are conforming to the House map, which is a gerrymander, there’s no question about it. But it’s doing so in order to help the electability of an African-American on the east side of Gainesville.”
The City had asked the consultants to come back because of concerns with splitting the Stephen Foster neighborhood and the proposed inclusion of the Duck Pond neighborhood in District 1 (the previous map can be seen here). They brought a new map for the commission to consider:
“[Supervisor Barton] used language like ‘I don’t like being pushed around by the city commission,’ that sort of language.” – Dr. Michael McDonald
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he didn’t think they should draw their districts based on gerrymandered State House and Senate seats. McDonald said Barton had not worked on redistricting yet, but that she indicated she would follow the legislative districts; he said she was “resistant” to splitting precincts to accommodate the redistricting preferences of the city commission. “She used language like ‘I don’t like being pushed around by the city commission,’ that sort of language.” McDonald said the maps need to get to the newspaper for publication by April 17, and he hoped the supervisor would have new precincts by mid-April, but he wasn’t sure. He told the commission that if they want “to go a different way… you’re going to open up a huge can of worms here, and it’s going to be really difficult to put all of those worms back in the can.”
“Let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.” – Commissioner David Arreola
Commissioner David Arreola said he didn’t “want our decisions to be based on what I believe to be the fault of the legislature… let’s not fall into the trap of trying to make districts that conform with what I believe to be unconstitutional districts from Tallahassee.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said they might regret “jump[ing] into an approval.” He said he didn’t want to split precincts and that he preferred waiting until after the August elections to have more “voter data.” The consultants pointed out that if the City sticks with the existing (2010) districts, they will be splitting precincts, anyway, “because the supervisor is going to draw the new precincts to conform with the state legislative districts.” Ward still thought they didn’t have enough information to make “the right decisions” that day.
“I appreciate the legislature for maintaining the legacy seat in District 1. I mean, I know their game. I know why they did it. Pack all the blacks in one place, and then you don’t have to worry and you can then draw the other seats like you want to.” – Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut also said she would not be comfortable voting that day, plus “[the supervisor is] really going to drive this ship… and she’s already told us she’s going to follow the legislature… we really can’t fight it… I appreciate the legislature for maintaining the legacy seat in District 1. I mean, I know their game. I know why they did it. Pack all the blacks in one place, and then you don’t have to worry and you can then draw the other seats like you want to.” She preferred waiting until after the November election to draw the maps.
McDonald said they didn’t have to make a decision until April 7. Chestnut made a motion to request a meeting between Supervisor Barton and the city commission by March 28. Poe suggested meeting with Barton before March 28 and then setting the districts at a March 28 special meeting. He said he could represent the city commission at a meeting with Barton, City staff, and the two consultants. Chestnut asked if other commissioners could be present at that meeting, and Poe said it could be a workshop with no votes taken, so they would not need a quorum. Chestnut agreed to modify her motion to a workshop with Barton before March 28 and a special meeting on March 28 (the commission currently has a workshop scheduled on March 28; this would change it to a special meeting and add redistricting to the agenda).
The motion passed unanimously.
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