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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 3 weeks ago

Sarasota County Commission moves ahead with two redistricting maps

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The maps drew controversy, with many Newtown residents saying they would be disenfranchised.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Sarasota County Commissioners moved ahead with two proposed redistricting maps for use in the 2020 elections during a special meeting Wednesday. 

By a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved one map created by county-hired consultant Kurt Spitzer and another created by political activist and former Sarasota GOP chairman Bob Waechter. Commissioner Christian Ziegler and Chair Charles Hines voted against the maps. 

The Waechter map proposal moves Sarasota's Newtown neighborhood into the County Commission's District 2 and adds Republican voters to District 1. Democrat Fredd Atkins has already filed to run against incumbent Mike Moran in District 1 in the county's new single-member voting district plan. If Newtown were moved into District 2, where much of Atkins' Democratic support might come from, it won't be in the election mix until 2022. 

Residents of Newtown spoke up during the meeting, saying if the Waechter map is chosen, their voting rights will be infringed because they could no longer vote in the 2020 election. 

Trevor Harvey, president of the Sarasota branch of the NAACP, criticized the map during the meeting, stating the map benefits the commissioners, not the constituents they serve. 

“You are completely gerrymandering the minority community, taking away their voice and their vote,” Harvey said. “This is absolutely insane.” 

Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out that no matter which map is chosen, some voters will have their vote delayed until the 2022 election. 

When asked which maps were most legally defensible, should a lawsuit arise, Spitzer said his options one through three and their various iterations were most likely the best bet. 

Ziegler criticized the Waechter map, stating numerous times that the perceived goal of redistricting was to get each district as close to the same number in population as possible. 

The best way to do so, he said, was by shifting small blocks of population into different districts, not redrawing the boundaries, like what is done in the Waechter map. 

Additionally, Ziegler said the consultant-drawn maps were put before the public with ample time for residents to make comments while the Waechter map was not. 

“The first three went on a road show to every meeting,” he said “ … At the very last minute we get this fourth map that comes out and now we’re considering that?” 

Hines, who throughout the process has supported balanced districts, noted the disparity between districts is the largest in the Waechter map and may be less defensible in court.

Spitzer’s map does not move Newtown out of District 1, allowing Newtown residents to vote in the 2020 election. And keep Atkins in the race.

It does however, shift east county's Precinct 233 into District 1. Precinct 233 is largely Republican and the change could shift District 1 from Democratic to Republican-leaning. 

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