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Libraries and rivers: the realities of drawing districts that serve communities
At this week’s meeting, the Jacksonville City Council got their first glimpse at the city’s redistricting proposals. The proposals didn’t withstand scrutiny.
By Andrew Pantazi
The first glimpse at Jacksonville City Council redistricting proposals drawn to avoid any river crossings showed the tradeoffs of such a rigid rule.
Avoiding the St. John River means that Downtown, Springfield, Brentwood, Oceanway and Black Hammond Island would all fall under the same sprawling district.
Faced with the reality of what it actually looks like to draw districts that don’t cross the St. Johns River, Jacksonville City Councilmen Al Ferraro and Rory Diamond, two of the council members most likely affected by the no-river-crossings rule, said they actually wouldn’t mind seeing districts that cross the river.
Last week, the Jacksonville City Council redistricting committee had unanimously agreed they didn’t want districts that crossed the St. John River, a rule that began in the last redistricting in 2011 when only one district ended up crossing the river.
Ferraro and Diamond don’t serve on the special committee, but at a meeting held Thursday by Aaron Bowman, the committee chairman, the two said they didn’t object to river crossings.
“Actually, to me, it makes sense,” Ferraro said about including Northside communities like Oceanway and Black Hammond Island with East Arlington south of the River.
And Diamond, who represents District 13 that includes the Beaches and communities to the west of them, said, “We’ve got the Intracoastal. We cross water all the time.”
Jacksonville Planning Director Bill Killingsworth presented three proposals to the council members who attended the meeting, and he said he will now draw a version that includes river crossings.
The redistricting committee also previously decided they want maps that:
- don’t draw incumbents out of their own districts,
- change as little as possible from the current ones,
- have compact, contiguous districts,
- reflect communities of interest,
- use total number of people, as opposed to voting-age population, to reach roughly equal-population districts.
Bowman said he prefers small-group meetings like these, where councilmembers from adjacent districts can discuss their redistricting priorities, over meetings with the redistricting committee.
At the meeting, the council members were able to see the map, but the public wasn’t, making the discussion hard to follow.
Property Appraiser Jerry Holland, himself a former elections supervisor and city councilman, asked city staff if they’d print duplicates of the maps next time to ensure the public could follow along.
The new maps won’t go into effect in time for the 2022 School Board race, the City Council redistricting committee has decided, which means the first elections affected by new maps will be the 2023 City Council elections.
The City Council isn’t prohibited from gerrymandering, which means it is allowed to draw districts specifically for political gain.
The Florida Legislature, which draws maps for congressional, state senate and state house seats, is prohibited from drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. The fair-districts standards also ban districts that would deny an equal opportunity to racial or language minorities.
Unlike the Legislature, the City Council went the opposite direction in including incumbency protection as a standard it will consider in drawing districts, attempting to ensure incumbent councilmembers don’t get drawn out of their district.
So far, no one on City Council has talked about politics during redistricting meetings, and no one has proposed considering competitiveness or proportionality in drawing the new map.
On The Calendar
The Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meets again on Thursday, Sept. 9, from 1-3 p.m. at City Hall.
The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee meets Monday, Sept. 20, from 3:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.
The Florida House begins committee meetings Sept. 20 but has not yet published when its reapportionment committee will meet.
See below for an explainer on how each of the redistricting criteria might play out:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s featured map comes from reader Robert Turnage who said he tried to use “significant … boundaries like the rivers, larger creeks, and larger highways to keep neighborhoods and communities together in a compact manner.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.