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Southside and the Beaches v. Northside and the Westside
Crossing the river would create more equal districts, otherwise a new City Council map grants more power to the Southside.
By Andrew Pantazi
There are 443,000 people who live in Duval County to the north or west of the St. Johns River. There are 552,500 people who live to the south or east of the river.
That uneven split means 14 City Council districts would be divided into 6.23 districts on one side and 7.77 on the other.
It’s possible — and falls within the 10-percent population deviation limits — for Jacksonville City Council to round those numbers and refuse to cross the river by having six districts to the north and west of the river and eight to the south and east, but doing so would systematically advantage one part of Jacksonville over another, ensuring more representation for residents in the whiter, wealthier, more conservative half of the city, while the more diverse, poorer, more liberal half would get less representation.
The city’s first three proposals present what a no-river-crossings map would look like for the Southside. Every Southside district would have fewer than the ideal 71,112, which means every district on the other side of the river would have to have more than the ideal population number.
Having a smaller population number means you get more representation since your council member has fewer people to worry about.
For example, District 2, currently the only district that crosses the river, has to represent the issues of Oceanway and almost all of the Northeast portion of the county, in addition to representing East Arlington. Under the three new proposals, East Arlington wouldn’t need to split their council member’s attention with any Northside neighborhood.
The City Council Special Committee on Redistricting unanimously decided that reducing or eliminating river crossings should be a priority in redistricting, but last week, two council members who are not on the special committee said they wouldn’t have a problem with river crossings.
Part of the key to Joe Biden winning Duval County last fall was that while he did worse in Black-majority neighborhoods, he outperformed past Democratic candidates in whiter neighborhoods.
Donald Trump won 54 percent of the votes in the portion of the county to the south and east of the river, while Joe Biden won 44 percent.
Trump won six of the eight current Southside districts — all except Arlington-based District 1 and District 11 in the southeast.
Biden won District 11 by just 500 votes, while Trump won San Marco-based District 5 by just 400 votes.
Even though Andrew Gillum performed even better county-wide just two years earlier, he actually fared slightly worse in that part of the county, winning 44 percent to Ron DeSantis’ 55 percent.
Arlington’s District 1 has been held by a Democrat ever since the last redistricting, while the other seven Southside and Beaches districts have been held by Republicans, which is about what you’d expect based on how those districts have voted in county-wide and state-wide elections.
But now, the political future for Southside voters is up in the air, and predicting how these districts would vote is trickier. Those predictions are made even trickier by the fact that Jacksonville’s City Council elections are run in a jungle primary where every candidate runs on the same ballot, regardless of party, and a runoff is held if no one reaches a majority.
In the first and third city proposals, Biden would have won just one of the eight districts, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, a free program that has estimated election results to the Census block level. In the second proposal, Biden would have won two districts.
The redistricting committee canceled today’s 1 p.m. meeting, though Southside council members held a meeting on Tuesday and Northside council members will hold a meeting at 1 p.m. today.
Jacksonville Planning Director Bill Killingsworth has said he will try drawing a map that includes river crossings for City Council to consider.
On The Calendar
The Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meeting today was CANCELED.
The Northside council members will meet today from 1-2:30 p.m. at City Hall in the Lynwood Roberts Room.
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 council members 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.
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 email@example.com, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.