Commissioners have taken the first step toward potentially redistricting, though they’d have to complete the process by the end of 2019 if they choose to do so.
County commissioners revisited the idea of drawing new districts on Tuesday afternoon, several weeks after Commissioner Nancy Detert initially proposed the idea to correct current boundaries that were “out of whack.”
But first, commissioners said, they had to determine what data they would use if they were to move ahead with the proposal.
Sarasota voters approved single-member districts in November with a nearly 60% of the vote, ending the practice of countywide elections for commissioners. Early last month, Detert pointed to the “unbalanced” voter registration numbers across the county, prompting her to bring redistricting to the table.
The mention of voter registration numbers drew quick criticism by residents who said voter demographics don’t necessarily reflect overall population.
By May 7, County Administrator Jon Lewis brought before the board several alternative options for collecting such demographic data, cautioning commissioners that the data collection would be a preliminary step taken to understand population proportions — and would not yet affect district lines.
Among them, his two “best recommendations” involved revisiting and extrapolating data from the 2010 Census and then building on that information to more accurately reflect the current population.
Some community members at the meeting, however, argued the board should instead wait for the conclusion of the upcoming 2020 Census.
“From the report of the county administrator, it sounds like a patchwork of sources will need to be cobbled together,” said Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. “You can serve the public well by keeping the same boundaries for the districts until after you have the population out from the Census.”
But commissioners felt there was no harm in at least taking a peek at the preliminary data. Making the decision to redistrict or spend money on an expert on the topic, they said, could wait until after they had seen the numbers.
And, as doing the initial “quick look” could be accomplished using already-existing county funds, commissioners ultimately assigned staff members to proceed with data and source collection.
“People will sue or dispute anything we do when it comes to elections, it’s just a given when it comes to today’s world, unfortunately,” Detert said. “But it wouldn’t hurt to know the real number of the population of the county.”