By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

The Jacksonville City Council’s redistricting efforts so far have relied on racial data produced by city planners who ignored federal guidelines and court decisions for how to define racial groups.

Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau asked every person in America for their race and ethnicity. The federal government considers every person who checks the “Black or African American” box to be Black. The city of Jacksonville does not.

Instead, Jacksonville’s definition of race — which doesn’t separate non-Hispanic white residents from Hispanic white residents and doesn’t count people in racial categories if they identify as multiple races — overstates the white population and undercounts Black and Asian residents.

The city only includes those who mark one race as belonging to that race. If someone marks two races, they go into a separate multiracial category.

This makes it more difficult for the city to assess if voters who belong to specific racial groups, like Black voters, might be disenfranchised by the City Council’s proposed maps.

“That’s all news to me,” said City Councilman Aaron Bowman, who led the redistricting committee. “In our redistricting, we didn’t look at party. We didn’t look at races in how we draw certain lines.”

In fact, City Planner Bill Killingsworth has provided racial and political party data repeatedly at meetings.

“Everything we’ve done has been in concert with federal, local and state law. I can’t help you on what you’ve heard and what you think,” Bowman said. “I feel very confident what we did was with the advice of General Counsel. That will be up to the courts if somebody doesn’t like the way we did it.”

Killingsworth and the city’s Office of General Counsel didn’t return emails requesting comment, but one of Killingsworth’s employees confirmed how the office was using race.

“Wow,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor specializing in redistricting, when he heard how the city was defining race. “That appears to be problematic. I would recommend that the city follow the OMB guidance because it’s what the Department of Justice will be looking.”

For decades, the Office of Management and Budget redistricting guidelines have said that people who identify as more than one race should count in each minority racial group they list, and those who identify as Hispanic or Latino as belonging to a distinct minority group.

Jacksonville instead counts Hispanic residents who also identify as white residents in its overall white category.

That means that even though Duval County is 49 percent non-Hispanic white, according to the City Council and the city planners drawing and analyzing redistricting plans, Duval is a 52-percent white county.

“With Hispanics, it’s an ethnic group, not a race,” Killingsworth explained to the City Council Redistricting Special Committee last week.

Further complicating matters, the city’s lawyers told council members that while historically and traditionally districts’ total populations are used to make sure they’re roughly equal in size, federal courts have indicated they should use voting-age population to assess demographics of a district since what matters is who is eligible to vote.

Yet Killingsworth has not provided any of the voting-age population statistics to the City Council for its proposed plans.

This isn’t the first time Killingsworth may have misunderstood the concept of voting-age population statistics. A decade ago, when he was hired to draw maps, his first map proposal used voting-age population to determine districts’ ideal size because, he said, the city had always used voting-age population instead of total population.

During public comment at that same meeting, a former Census worker who had helped draw previous maps corrected Killingsworth and said voting-age population had never been used to determine districts’ size.

At another meeting, then-General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said the city should use voting-age population to analyze the district demographics but not necessarily to determine district size. Yet the published data attached to the maps never used voting-age population.

The Jacksonville City Council must consider race to ensure that minority racial groups are not disenfranchised through gerrymandering. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of “cracking” and “packing”.

Packing is when a district concentrates residents from a racial group far beyond what’s necessary for them to elect a candidate of their choice, which reduces their influence in the remaining districts.

Cracking is when a map spreads a minority group across districts so that those voters don’t have the voting power to elect candidates of their choice in as many districts as they otherwise might have.

The council can only make race a major factor in its redistricting decisions if it found that a minority group’s voice would be diluted otherwise, but the council never made that finding.

Without such a finding, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the council from using “race as a predominant factor” in redistricting, as the city’s Office of General Counsel noted in a memo.

The Office of General Counsel’s memo said that if someone sues and can show that race was “the driving factor for the district’s shape, a court must review” the reason the City Council drew districts based on race.

Black residents make up high percentages of four proposed districts, ranging from 61 percent to 70 percent, far beyond what any mathematical analysis would say is necessary for Black voters to elect the candidates of their choice.

Those percentages don’t appear quite as high when city planners presented the districts because Killingsworth used his own definition of race that contradicted the federal government’s definition. Under Killingsworth’s unusual definition, those districts’ Black populations ranged from 57 percent to 68 percent.

This is Changing Florida, a Tributary newsletter keeping you up to date on redistricting, demographics and the fight for political power in the Sunshine State.

To make sure you don’t miss out on an issue, click here to subscribe now and play a part in ensuring fair districts for all of Florida. Click here to read our archives.

We can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Click here to donate to The Tributary.

If you have questions about redistricting or the Census, you can send them to us by clicking here.

On The Calendar

The Tributary is hosting its first redistricting town hall today from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to participate. Register here. Follow our Facebook updates here.

The Jacksonville City Council redistricting committee will meet formally introduce legislation that adopts city maps next month and begin scheduling public hearings.

The Florida Legislature’s House and Senate redistricting committees are not expected to meet again until January.

You can find past meetings on The Florida Channel, which will also live-stream the Florida Legislature’s meetings.

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.

Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville...