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Sarasota Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2019 4 months ago

County to explore drawing new district lines

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The Board of County Commissioners will revisit the topic of redistricting in May.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Saying that County Commission boundaries are "out of whack,'' Commissioner Nancy Detert on Tuesday suggested redrawing the maps before the 2020 election in light of last fall's voter approval of single-member districts.

Detert told fellow commissioners she saw the need when she realized the proportions of registered voters in each of the five districts were unbalanced. Voters in November approved the single-member districts in November by a nearly 60% margin. At the time, Democratic Party leaders in Sarasota County hailed the change, though business leaders said it could lead to district vs. district fights over funding.

In the same election, Republican Christian Ziegler won District 2 by 11 percentage points, but his Democratic opponent, Ruta Maria Journiari, carried voting precincts in and around downtown Sarasota and east toward The Meadows. District 2 district covers portions of Sarasota from the bayfront, along Bahia Vista Street, Proctor Road and west of Interstate 75 between Bee Ridge and Clark roads. Al Maio won by seven percentage points over Wesley Anne Beggs in District 4, though much of her support came from voting precincts outside of the commission district.  

“This particular [change] has to do with the fact that the voters voted for single-member districts and this is going to call for big change,” she said. “So, instead of voters voting for all five commissioners, they’re going to be just voting for one. We will have to run in just a much smaller district, not countywide.”

County Attorney Rick Elbrecht said commissioners are welcome to redistrict at their convenience — without necessarily waiting for the 2020 Census — “as long as it’s done reasonably and in a non-discriminatory manner.” In specific, he cited how Florida state law only dictates that the “Board shall, from time to time, fix the boundaries of the above districts so as to keep them as nearly equal to proportion of the population as possible.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler questioned where the county would begin such an effort.

“What data sets could we possibly look at when it goes to redistricting?” Ziegler said. “You have the Census in 2010, and I vaguely remember a community survey from 2015 where they provide numbers, but then we also have voter registration numbers. What data sets do we look at, and who draws the maps?"

Commission Chair Charles Hines requested staff members prepare research for the board to consider in May.

Ultimately, commissioners agreed that the best way to move forward would be to act as transparently as possible, making such as efforts as televising the process and actively seeking community input at a series of workshops.

“It’s a big responsibility and we’re going to probably have to suffer some slings and arrows on this, and probably lawsuits because people sue all the time for anything they want,” Detert said. “But I feel it is our responsibility and — if we do this in the most transparent, fair, common sense way — maybe it’s a lesson to everybody. I think we all need to work on restoring the average person’s faith in their own government.”

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