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Sarasota Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 3 weeks ago

Sarasota County redistricting sparks questions, concern

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Residents and officials wonder how the redistricting will effect the 2020 election.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

The Sarasota County Board of Commissioners approved the redrawing of County Commission district lines, which will stand for a single election before being again redrawn for the 2022 elections based on U.S. Census data.

The board passed the decision 4-1. Christian Ziegler voted no.

Opponents argued data collected by county-hired consultant Kurt Spitzer and Associates 

won’t be as accurate as census data collected a year later.

Resident Pat Rounds, speaking to the commission, argued that redistricting before the 2020 election, when three seats are up for grabs, will likely move some voters into new districts and make them ineligible to cast ballots until 2022.

“Last November, we didn’t vote to change district boundaries before the 2020 census, yet three commission seats are on the ballot next year, [and] you want to redraw the district map now,” Rounds said. “Voters choose their commissioners, not vice versa.”

Commissioner Nancy Detert,  who initiated discussion of redistricting in April, said that approval of single-member districts in 2018 makes rebalancing the county’s five districts before the next election crucial.

Previously, commissioners were elected by a countywide vote but represented a defined district. Now only voters who live within a commissioner’s district can cast a ballot in that race.

“My reason for doing this is it’s a sea change for our community to go from countywide race to single-member districts,” Detert said. “Prior to the passage of that, it really didn’t make any difference to 99% of us if they were out of balance because you voted countywide.”

Districts were last drawn in 2011 based on 2010 census results. At the time, the commission kept districts within 5% of one another in size, with the difference in population from largest to smallest district being 4,417 people.

County staff estimated there is now a 9.1% spread between the largest and smallest, just under the constitutional limit of 10%.

However, using data from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, Spitzer estimates the population of District 5 in south Sarasota at 89,825 and the population of District 2, which includes portions of Sarasota city and Longboat Key, at 79,590 — a spread of 12.3%.

 “I don’t think we have a choice,” Commission Chair Charles Hines said. 

A 2018 BEBR analysis shows the county’s population at 417,442. To create equal districts, Spitzer divided the total population by five and derived 83,488 as an ideal number people per district.

Some voters see this balance of numbers as a chance to get a party member on the board. 

In 2016, former Sarasota mayor Fredd Atkins ran as a Democrat for the District 1 seat, a district with more registered Democrats than Republicans. He won the district vote but lost the countywide vote. Now with district lines pending, Atkins is unsure where he stands in the 2020 race. 

County staff will now work with Spitzer to develop maps and conduct public outreach. Commissioners will be updated at the first set of meetings in November.

The statute requires redistricting be complete before an election year begins.

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