In one week, the Jacksonville City Council will get a first look at new maps drawn by its expert consultant after a federal judge struck down the last districts as racial gerrymanders.
Some residents have expressed concerns that even though civil-rights groups brought the lawsuit that struck down Jacksonville’s council districts, the new map may end up hurting Black voters even more.
The City Council will hold a meeting Tuesday night at 5 p.m. where the public can offer comments. City Council President Terrance Freeman said citizens could also submit suggestions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who want to propose alternative maps don’t have to wait until the consultant’s maps come out on Nov. 1 before submitting their own maps.
The Tributary has received a number of emails from readers asking if more compact districts would inherently hurt Black voting power in Jacksonville. To answer some of those questions, we thought we’d walk through 11 possible redrawings of the City Council maps.
How to draw your own districts
Anyone who wants to try their hand at drawing their own districts and submitting them to City Council can follow these instructions:
Sign up for an account at Dave’s Redistricting App.
Click on this link. Click the paintbrush next to the “View Only” text. Click “Yes” to make an editable copy of the map.
Click on the new map and click edit. You can then begin drawing a map that will keep the seven districts south and east of the St. Johns River frozen.
Once you’ve finished, click the share button near the top-right of your screen and send me a link at email@example.com. You can also send a copy of your completed map to the redistricting committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to feature your submitted maps in a future newsletter.
You can scroll down to see the maps we’ve drawn if you want, but first, we will offer some background to keep in mind during the redistricting process.
Some basic rules apply when it comes to redistricting.
Districts must be roughly equal in population size. Generally, as long as the population difference between the most populous district and the least populous district is within 10%, the courts will OK the map as being equal population.
The city charter requires the districts to be “logical and compact”, and the city’s ordinances require districts “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.”
Plaintiffs have argued that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act must also apply to Jacksonville’s City Council districts. Section 2 would prohibit the city from diluting Black voting power below four districts where Black voters can elect the candidates of their choice.
Courts have ruled that Section 2 can provide a “compelling government interest” for using race in redistricting, but the government must still “narrowly tailor” its use of race. That means it’s OK to use race to ensure a district allows Black voters to elect their preferred candidates, but it doesn’t mean it’s OK to use race to pack even more Black voters into that district beyond what’s necessary.
The city initially claimed in its response to the lawsuit that the City Council was “mindful of the requirements of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and associated standards to avoid voter dilution.” But in its response to the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the city never said if it believes Section 2 requires the city to maintain four districts for Black voters.
One of the plaintiffs’ experts has said that on average, the city would need a district to have an about 41% Black citizen voting-age population to ensure Black voters could elect their preferred candidates. Currently, the Black CVAP ranges from 56% to 68% in four districts.
Another plaintiffs’ expert also looked at 17 county-wide elections to see which candidates in those elections were preferred by Black voters. The expert will be able to see how many of those 17 candidates preferred by Black voters would win in new districts.
The city and the plaintiffs could take many approaches to redrawing City Council districts:
- They could decide whether they want to freeze the seven districts south and east of the St. Johns River, not changing them at all. The city’s attorney has said that the redistricting committee must take a “wholesale review of the city’s districts,” suggesting they may make some changes to the seven districts south and east of the river.
- They could decide whether to prioritize “logical and compact” districts as the city’s charter requires.
- They could take into account major roadways and waterways, trying to follow them when possible, like ensuring two districts remain mostly north of the Trout River.
- They could draw districts that follow commonly understood neighborhood definitions so that the neighborhoods aren’t split among districts.
- They could also take partisanship into account, trying to draw more competitive districts or trying to draw districts that favor Republicans or Democrats.
- The city could also try to contest the plaintiff’s assertion that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act applies in Jacksonville and reduce the number of districts where Black voters can elect the candidates of their choice.
Six options for drawing new maps
- The Compact Options
- The Matt Schellenberg Option
- The Minimal Change Option
- No River Crossings Options
- GOP Gerrymanders
- DEM Gerrymanders
The Struck-Down Map
This is the map that U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard struck down as a racial gerrymander. She took aim at how “odd and illogical” the Westside and Northside districts were shaped, despite the city charter’s requirement for logical and compact districts.
With surgical precision, the districts carve through neighborhoods, ensuring four districts are packed with Black voters while the surrounding three districts are made whiter.
Last week, a city lawyer advised the council, “What you can’t do in this process is start with the premise that the 2011 lines are OK and merely tinker around the edges. Rather, you need to be engaged in a wholesale review of the city districts — and particularly those that were challenged in the underlying litigation and deemed constitutionally infirm by the court.”
The Compact Options
This version of the map creates an Urban Core district that joins Murray Hill, Riverside, Avondale, Lackawanna, Mixon Town, Brooklyn, Eastside, Springfield and Panama Park together.
It seeks to keep neighborhood groups together and to follow geographic features and roads. It has two districts almost entirely north of the Trout River. It doesn’t change any of the seven southeast districts. The map keeps two districts entirely south of I-10 on the Westside.
It has four districts that are about 44% Black voting-age population or higher. Those four districts would reliably elect Democrats.
Two more districts would be competitive, but now with Black populations larger than the countywide average. District 2 would still reliably vote Republican.
It splits Districts 2 and 8 along Dunn Creek, putting Oceanway, Imeson and San Mateo into District 8 and putting Yellow Bluff Road into District 2. District 8 is now mostly north of the Trout River, while District 2 continues to cross into East Arlington.
District 10 includes the outermost part of the Westside and Northside, south of the Trout River. The district stretches from the First Coast Expressway on its east, and it includes Baldwin and Cecil Field. It joins those Westside neighborhoods with Sherwood Forest and other neighborhoods at the edge of the Trout River. It includes Raines High School and Ribault High School.
District 9 now includes all of Grand Park and College Park, bordering I-95 to the east. It stretches west along Beaver Street, and then includes Marietta and the parts of Normandy Boulevard north of Hyde Grove.
District 7 becomes the new consolidated Urban Core district, including much of the original city limits north of the St. Johns River. The Trout River becomes it’s northern border and the St Johns River its eastern border. It mostly follows I-95 and Beaver Street until Cassat Avenue.
District 12 includes all of Argyle and the Westside neighborhoods south of Normandy between I-295 and the First Coast Expressway.
District 14 includes Ortega, Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Lakeshore.
This version largely follows similar decisions as the first one, but its urban core district, District 7, goes past Cassat and includes more of Lakeshore and other further outlying neighborhoods on the Westside. As a result, it puts Mixon Town and Lackawanna together in a separate district with Grand Park and Myrtle Avenue.
While it makes District 7 have a slightly lower Black voting-age population, it would likely continue to elect the candidates preferred by Black voters.
The Urban Core Option – With Minimal Change on the Southside
If you were willing to make small changes to the southeast districts, you could clean up Districts 1, 3, 4 and 13 to make the overall map more compact without significantly affecting partisan or racial demographics in those districts.
The Matt Schellenberg Option
Last decade, then-City Councilman Matt Schellenberg asked city staff to try drawing compact districts for the Northside and Westside. I tried to trace that map onto the 2020 Census blocks (which are slightly different from the 2010 ones used to draw it).
Today’s City Council could take that draft and make minimal changes to adjust for population changes.
One version of that would see three Black-majority districts with two more on the Westside that would be competitive. Those districts would be 30% Black voting-age population and 24% Black voting-age population and would lean Democratic.
While this map might be more favorable to Democrats, with three of those Westside and Northside districts being solidly Democratic and two leaning toward Democrats, the map may run afoul of the Voting Rights Act by not drawing four districts designed to protect Black voters.
The Minimal Change Option
The City Council could take the map that was struck down and try to make as few changes as possible to make districts more compact and less race-based.
This option takes some of the proposed changes that City Council previously rejected (District 8 takes on Baldwin, and District 7 takes on Imeson) and adds some other changes to smooth out the lines.
This version also stacks Districts 9 and 10 vertically, in contrast to their current narrow, skinny north-to-south path. This version would have one primarily south of I-10 and another primarily north of I-10.
No River Crossings
If the city wanted to redraw its whole map, it could do so, and it could draw new districts that don’t cross the river. See two examples below.
Bad ways to draw the remedial maps
The City Council tried to defend its map in court by arguing council members had used party, not race, and had packed in Democrats, not Black voters, into four out of 14 districts. While the court rejected that argument, the city could decide it wants to lean into drawing partisan gerrymanders that favor one party over the other.
It’s really hard to draw maps that would be even more severe gerrymanders in favor of the Republican Party than the one that was struck down, and doing so would likely require the City Council to ignore Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, risking an even more sweeping rebuke of the city.
More severe GOP gerrymanders also run the risk of turning into “dummymanders” by drawing too many districts that lean toward Republicans. Those districts, which may not be solidly Republican enough, could end up flipping due to shifting political winds or if there are particularly strong candidates that ran.
In this non-compact map, Republicans might usually win five of the seven districts north and west of the river. But in the event Democrats won countywide with about 54 percent of the vote or more, then Democrats could end up winning all seven districts, in addition to up to three on the other side of the river.
Creating a gerrymander that severe requires packing in extreme amounts of Black voters into just two districts, one would be 85% Black and the other would be 57% Black, likely running afoul of the Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution.
It’s also possible to draw a more compact GOP gerrymander. This one has three solidly Democratic seats on the Northside and Westside, two competitive seats, one solidly Republican seat and one seat that leans Republican. It again would reduce the number of seats where Black voters could regularly elect their preferred candidate, and it would risk a Voting Rights Act challenge.
Democrats only hold five of the Council’s 19 seats, and only one of the seven seats on the council’s redistricting committee. It’s unlikely those Democrats could exert the influence needed to push through a partisan gerrymander, especially since it was four of the Democrats on the council last year who were most responsible for maintaining the racially gerrymandered maps that benefited Republicans.
Still, it is possible to draw City Council maps that would favor Democrats and hurt Republicans.
This map would have four solidly Democratic seats — the same as now — plus a likely Democratic seat and three more that lean toward Democrats. Joe Biden would’ve won seven districts by a margin of more than 10 percentage points, an eighth by six points and a ninth by one point. That means eight out of 14 districts would be to the left of the countywide average.