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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 1 week ago

County Commission requests new redistricting map

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Commissioners want a fourth map drawn based off one submitted by a member of the public.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

After hearing from the public about the county’s redistricting efforts, county commissioners sent the hired consultant, Kurt Spitzer, back to the map-drawing board and requested the addition of a fourth proposal after questions arose about data accuracy.

Commissioner Nancy Detert, who has stood firmly behind the decision to redistrict, expressed concerns with the three maps Spitzer drew up and stated she wished the commissioners had more input on the process.

Instead of choosing one or two maps to advertise for a public hearing, commissioners asked Spitzer to reassess his three drawn maps and create a fourth based on suggestions put forth in a proposal from the public.

Commissioners questioned Spitzer’s population data and stated that some census blocks were estimated to have significantly more people than they reasonably could.

The goal of this redistricting effort is to get the population in each of five districts as level as possible. To accomplish this, Spitzer’s maps move census blocks between commission districts. If the data is wrong, it could affect the population totals in each district by giving one more people than another.

Spitzer said that although the data might not be as accurate on a micro level, he is confident in the data at broader levels and stated it’s “legally defensible.”

“Given the timeline and funding for this project, we believe that our methodology is sound and acceptable,” Spitzer said. “Are there other options we could have taken? … Sure, yes, there are.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler questioned how Spitzer could be confident the maps are accurate if he can’t be confident in the block data, which is what Spitzer moved around to make the maps. Spitzer said errors in individual blocks would not invalidate the entire effort.

Despite reservations, Commissioners are continuing to the next steps of the process and asking Spitzer to fix any concerns. The member of the public whose input is helping generate a fourth proposal was identified as “Smith.” Detert argued the Smith map features more intuitive geographical boundaries and makes each district more compact.

Aside from the additional map, commissioners hardly discussed other public input collected at five different public hearings. Out of 2,081 survey respondents, 89% said they would prefer the proposed map that Sarasota County Democratic Party encouraged Democrats to approve. The party contends that map changes the partisan compositions of the districts the least. Critics of the plan say commissioners are trying to draw the districts to protect incumbents.

Commission Chair Charles Hines called that idea “ridiculous” and said the effort is solely meant to make the districts even in population.

The commission will now have a special meeting later this month to select one or more maps to advertise for a public hearing Nov. 5.

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