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Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 3 months ago

County finalizes redistricting map options

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The County Commission will choose one of three maps establishing new district boundaries. A consultant produced one option, and a resident submitted the other two.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As the county works to draw new district bounties for elections after the 2020 Census, the County Commission has finalized a list of three maps it will consider for adoption before the end of the year.

One of those maps is based on a submission from the county’s redistricting consultant, Kurt Spitzer, and largely seeks to adhere to the map the commission adopted in 2019. The other two, which make more significant changes to existing district boundaries, are submissions from resident Brian Goodrich, an attorney with the Bentley Goodrich Kison law firm.

The county is redistricting for the second time in two years because, based on Census data, the 2019 map has too great a population disparity between the largest and smallest districts. A map is generally considered compliant with state and federal regulations if there’s a deviation of less than 10% between all districts; the county map has a deviation of more than 14% between District 2 in north Sarasota and District 3 in the southern end of the county.

The county solicited online map submissions from the public from Oct. 1-11. At a special meeting Oct. 20, the commission eliminated nine of the 11 citizen proposals, advancing only the Goodrich maps for further consideration.

Although Brian Goodrich has not appeared at county meetings to discuss his proposed district maps, he said his ideas were built around an effort to create a better balance on the board — and improve the odds of a Democratic victory.

The Goodrich maps drew criticism from three members of the public and one commissioner during Tuesday’s meeting. During an open comment period, speakers suggested the Goodrich maps may be politically motivated, designed to improve the electoral odds of incumbent Commissioner Christian Ziegler, a Republican. Resident Pat Rounds noted the Goodrich submissions included information on the partisan makeup of each proposed district, a fact she suggested should disqualify the maps from consideration.

“When you do redistricting using the census, you are looking at population, not partisan rating,” Rounds said. “[The Goodrich maps] are prejudiced and they are inappropriate.”

Following the meeting, Goodrich acknowledged some partisan consideration went into making the maps — but the boundaries weren’t designed to favor a Republican incumbent, he said. Goodrich said he drew the maps in partnership with his colleague Morgan Bentley, and the two set out to produce districts that would improve the odds of a Democrat winning a seat on the Republican-dominated board.

“I think it’s funny that it’s being hailed as a tool to get Christian Ziegler re-elected,” said Goodrich, a registered Democrat. “I don’t know Christian Ziegler. I have no stock in Christian Ziegler, and it was absolutely not done with that in mind. It was solely done from the perspective of — how do we create a balance on the County Commission?”

Goodrich defended the use of party politics as a factor in the redistricting process. He said the maps he submitted were not slanted to guarantee a victory for one party in any race — one map retains a Republican registration majority in each district — but he felt his proposal would improve the dynamics of an electoral process that has not produced a Democratic commissioner since 1966.

“The goal of the maps is to create balance,” Goodrich said. “It’s not saying, ‘I want this particular Democratic candidate to win.’ It’s not saying, ‘We want to have five Democratic commissioners.’ It’s to give a chance for more diverse voices to sit on the commission.”

The commission voted 4-1 to advertise the three selected maps for consideration at a Nov. 15 public hearing. The dissenting vote was Commissioner Nancy Detert, who objected to the inclusion of the Goodrich maps. Detert said she saw no need to deviate significantly from the map the county adopted in 2019.

“We did all the heavy lifting before,” Detert said. “All we had to do is tweak numbers based on the census.”

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