A newsletter covering redistricting, the Census and the fight for political power

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Speeding up the timeline

After last week’s meeting, the Jacksonville City Council special committee on redistricting scheduled another meeting, for today.


By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary


After last week’s City Council meeting where the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel reported it didn’t think the city could complete redistricting in time for new School Board districts to take effect in 2022, the redistricting special committee has begun to move to a more frequent meeting schedule.

Originally, they scheduled the next meeting for later next month. Now they will meet today at 2 p.m. and then, according to the draft agenda, meet again Sept. 9.

This seems to indicate the committee intends to get the process going more quickly than originally planned.

For background, if you haven’t been following along, Jacksonville’s City Council is responsible for drawing five at-large residency City Council districts and 14 neighborhood council districts. Each of the School Board seats is then automatically drawn with each board seat making up two adjacent council districts.

Under the city’s laws, redistricting plans must be approved at least nine months before an election. City Council appears to be able to change the ordinance to give themselves more time to approve redistricting plans, but no one has expressed an interest in doing so.

Unlike the Florida Legislature, the City Council isn’t prohibited from gerrymandering, which means it can draw districts specifically for political gain. The Florida Legislature’s standards prohibit drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties, and the standards ban districts that would deny an equal opportunity to racial or language minorities.

Committee Chairman Aaron Bowman has asked each member of the committee to be ready to offer city Planning Director Bill Killingsworth their preferred criteria during redistricting.

Click here to see our coverage of last week’s meeting here.


On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meets today, Aug. 24, from 2-4 p.m. at City Hall.

The committee meets again on Thursday, Sept. 9, from 1-3 p.m. at City Hall.


Redistricting Options

A menu of redistricting maps for City Council

Since the Jacksonville City Council is preparing to decide what criteria to consider in drawing new maps, we at The Tributary thought we’d demonstrate what those maps might look like if they prioritized different criteria.

Compactness

One common standard that redistricting commissions will use is compactness. To give an oversimplified definition, this means the shapes of the districts look pretty and round, as opposed to districts that dip in and out of neighborhoods.

To the left, you can see an example of a compact map.

Based on county-wide results for 2016, 2018 and 2020, this map would produce four solidly Democratic seats, one mostly Democratic seat, two competitive seats, one mostly Republican seat and six solidly Republican seats.

It has three Black-majority districts and one Black plurality district. Non-Hispanic white residents are a majority in seven out of 14 districts, which matches the county’s overall population.

However, even when districts look pretty, that doesn’t mean it represents neighborhoods accurately. In this map, the river is frequently crossed, and Arlington is one example of a neighborhood that isn’t kept intact.

Some redistricting committees use both compactness and preserving communities of interest as their top criteria to balance pretty-looking districts with districts that reflect real neighborhoods.

Proportionality

Republicans on Jacksonville’s City Council hold a two-thirds supermajority, even as the county has been swinging to the left. Of the 14 neighborhood districts, Republicans hold nine sets, as well as four of the five at-large seats.

Part of the reason is that Republicans tend to vote more often in off-year elections — and our city elections always come on odd years.

But how the districts are drawn, with Democrats concentrated in four districts while Republicans’ votes are spread out more efficiently, plays an even more important factor.

  • In 2016, when Donald Trump won a slight plurality (48 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent), he won nine of the 14 districts.
  • In 2018, even though Andrew Gillum won a majority (52 percent to Ron DeSantis’ 47 percent) of Duval, he won just six of the 14 districts.
  • In 2020, Joe Biden won a majority (51 percent to Trump’s 47 percent), and he won seven of 14 districts.
  • Even in 2015, the last mayoral race with a Republican and Democrat, the results were out of proportion with the mayoral results. In the runoff, Republican challenger Lenny Curry won with 51 percent to Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown’s 49 percent. Yet Curry won majorities in nine out of 14 districts.

Drawing a proportional map like the one below limits the number of competitive sets but ensures neither party will hold more than eight districts at any given time, which means the county-wide partisan results will usually be reflected in the districts.

This map limits competitive races and also could accelerate partisanship in local elections. In recent years, Jacksonville City Council races have featured non-orthodox candidates — conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans — with voters willing to cross party lines.

Minority Representation

When Jacksonville and Duval County consolidated, the newly expanded government ensured Black residents would not be a majority population by adding in the white suburbs.

Through the 1980s, 12 out of the 14 neighborhood seats were held by white residents. Through the 1990s, 10 of the seats were. Today, nine of the 14 seats are held by white residents.

Four of the five seats currently held by Black councilmembers are majority Black, ranging from 61 percent to 71 percent Black. The fifth seat is 39 percent Black.

If the City Council wanted to boost minority representation on City Council, it could do so by not packing in so many Black residents into four seats.

The map to the left would have two Black-majority districts and five Black-plurality districts. White residents would have a plurality in one district and a majority in six districts. Five districts would be strongly Democratic, three would lean Democratic and six would be strongly Republican.

Competitiveness

Today, none of the City Council districts are truly competitive, averaging margins of victory within five percentage points from 2016 through 2020 (using senate, presidential, gubernatorial and attorney general elections). Four were between five and 10 percentage-point margins: Districts 1, 5, 11 and 14. District 1 leans Democratic while the other three lean Republican.

But you could draw districts with an eye toward having most offer even chances for Republicans or Democrats to win them.

The map to the left has 10 districts that are competitive.

While a competitive map can sound fair in theory, the flip side is that such a map is prone to extreme swings. In a year where Republicans would win the county by five points or more, they could win all but one district. In a year where Democrats won the county by five points or more, they could win all but three districts.

Similar to current map & equal population

Already the special committee passed one criterion last week that it wants to consider in redistricting: keeping districts similar to how they currently stand.

As a special prize, these districts are all roughly the same population, with the most populous district having just 86 more people than the least populous district.

City lawyers have told the City Council they can feel free to vary population sizes with a 10-percent deviation, where the most populous district has 7,100 more people than the least populous district. But City Council could endeavor to abide by smaller deviations. This map has a 0.1% deviation.

There are three major differences between the old map and the new map. District 14 crosses the river and captures San Marco, the South Bank and St. Nicholas. District 11, due to its explosive population growth, shrinks by about one-fifth its current size. District 5 moves south to absorb much of the old District 11.

Other than that and a few minor tweaks, the districts look pretty much the same.


Submit your maps

We want to see what you think Jacksonville’s 14 City Council districts should look like.

Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.

  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org.
  • Create an account.
  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org/maps.
  • Select New Map.
  • Choose Florida as your state.
  • Select “Other” as your plan type.
  • Restrict to Duval.
  • Select 14 districts.
  • Click apply and it will take you to a new screen where you can begin drawing districts.

When you’re done, send a link to your map to info@jaxtrib.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.

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Andrew Pantazi is the founding editor of The Tributary. He and his wife, Lauren, are both Jacksonville natives raising their two sons in the city. You can contact him at Andrew.Pantazi@JaxTrib.org.