By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

Mayor Lenny Curry signed Jacksonville’s controversial redistricting plan that activists say disenfranchises Black voters by packing them into a few City Council districts.

The Jacksonville City Council voted 17-to-1 last week to approve the plan, and Curry signed it later that week, spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton confirmed Tuesday.

Curry didn’t have a statement about the maps. Curry previously filed a brief to the Florida Supreme Court asking it to weigh in on congressional redistricting, but he has not similarly expressed any opinions about Jacksonville’s own local redistricting.

The City Council prioritized making as few changes as possible to its current map and protecting incumbents in its redistricting plan. The approved plan splits 47 neighborhoods, and it draws a majority of the city’s Black residents into sprawling four districts.

The new districts will go into effect for the 2023 spring elections. They will also impact Duval County School Board seats, which are drawn by merging adjacent City Council districts together, but they will not go into effect for the fall 2022 elections. The first School Board elections under the new maps are scheduled to take place in 2024.

The maps led hundreds of citizens to attend public hearings, and a University of North Florida poll found that 89% of Jacksonville residents didn’t trust City Council to handle redistricting fairly. About 85% of residents said they want a bipartisan panel to handle Jacksonville redistricting instead.

District maps can violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause if the line drawers made race a predominant factor in redistricting without a compelling reason.

It can be appropriate to consider race to protect a minority population’s ability to elect their preferred candidates, but experts say that doesn’t give City Council carte blanche to pack as many Black voters as possible into those districts.

The Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, the American Civil Liberties Union Northeast Florida Chapter, Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters and the Jacksonville NAACP have threatened to sue the city for racial gerrymandering.

A city attorney has said the city would "likely prevail" if the maps are challenged in court.

An academic conducted an extensive study that determined Black voters could elect their preferred candidate in a given district with an about 41% to 44% Black citizen voting-age population.

The four districts that were drawn to increase Black populations in the districts far exceed that. They range from 57% to 68% Black voting-age population.

The academic was hired by the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, the American Civil Liberties Union Northeast Florida Chapter, Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters and the Jacksonville NAACP. The report was sent to City Council before it voted on the maps.

Such an analysis is often a first step in filing voting-rights lawsuits.

City law requires all districts be drawn in “as logical and compact a geographical pattern as it is possible to achieve,” and the “districts must take into consideration other factors, particularly compactness and contiguity, so that the people of the City, and their varied economic, social and ethnic interests and objectives, are adequately represented in the Council.”

The council never assessed the districts’ compactness.

The audience gathered at the Jacksonville City Council meeting last week when the council approved its redistricting plan. [The Tributary]

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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...