City Commission gives initial OK to redistricting

Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 9:45 p.m.

The Gainesville City Commission has given initial approval to newly drawn district boundaries.

Commissioners had postponed the vote at a November meeting after representatives of east Gainesville political and community organizations voiced concerns that the minority-access status of District 1 would be jeopardized under the redistricting plan that a consultant and advisory board had recommended.

Their concerns focused on the fact that the district — which includes most of east Gainesville and has elected five consecutive black commissioners since Gainesville introduced single-member districts in 1988 — would have a black population below 48 percent, according to 2010 U.S. census data.

University of Florida political science professor Kenneth Wald, the city’s longtime redistricting consultant, discounted the population data and said election results were a more accurate indication of whether it would remain a minority district.

Wald said the results from the 2012 primary and general elections showed that the newly drawn voting precincts that make up the new district boundaries continue to show strong support for minority candidates.

Current District 1 Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls on Thursday said she still had concerns about whether the newly drawn district would continue to elect black commissioners. In the end, she said it was the best option available, even if flawed.

Following population shifts and annexations to the west and the redrawing of voter precincts this year by the Supervisor of Elections, District 1, under its pre-redistricting boundaries, had a population of 21,230.

That was well below the target population of 31,023 residents for each of the city’s four single-member districts and barely half of the District 3 population of 40,538.

Wald said that left the current districts “massively outside the allowable population disparities” of state and federal law. One reason, he said, was the significant change to voting precincts under a new state law that required the Supervisor of Elections not to split census blocks.

To pump population back into District 1, the redistricting process added the newly drawn voting Precinct 59 — and its large student population — to District 1.

Wald said the option commissioners approved — one of four presented to them — was also the only one that kept all commissioners eligible for re-election in their current districts.

While the initial vote on new boundaries was unanimous, District 2 Commissioner Todd Chase did express concerns over the changes. Chase said the area he considered the “epitome of District 2,” which stretches from Northwest 39th Avenue to Northwest 16th Avenue and from Northwest 34th Street to Northwest 43rd Street, was no longer in District 2.

He asked Wald if his analysis looked at how that would change the complexion of the district. Wald said that, under the federal Voting Rights Act, the analysis looked only at the question of whether redistricting would dilute the black vote.

The second and final vote on redistricting is scheduled for Dec. 20.

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