No Redistricting Until After 2020

Letters

BY PAT ROUNDS SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 24, 2019

Sarasota County last November voters sent a clear message to the County Commission—that they want more direct representation and accountability. The Single-Member Districts Amendment won by overwhelming margins in all five County Districts. 

In 2020, voters in odd-numbered Districts expect to cast ballots for Commission candidates who will represent them directly. No one voted to change District boundaries before the 2020 Census, yet our County Commission seems determined to do just that. After the November elections results, Commissioner Detert said ,“We heard the message”. Really?

Initially, Ms. Detert tried to make the case for early redistricting by citing a variance in the number of registered voters across districts. As a former State Senator who served on a State-level redistricting panel after the last Census in 2010, didn’t she recall that population determines District boundaries?

Facing that inconvenient reality didn’t stop the push to redraw boundaries early.  

This Spring, the Commission asked County staff to research the County population by District and to seek the criteria to justify redistricting. County staff cited US Supreme Court criteria defining the population deviation which could warrant redrawing District boundaries. The population forecast was calculated by ESRI Corporation, which has conducted GIS tracking for Sarasota County for years. Ironically an ESRI-generated District/Precinct population map is currently posted on the County Commission web page. Despite learning that staff research results didn’t justify the need to redistrict, our County Commission is moving forward anyway.   

The Commission has now engaged an “outside expert” now using a different population forecast data base, although he has used ESRI Corporation in at least one previous redistricting contract (Jefferson County, 2016).  Why the change in data sources? Are the population input parameters different, or the same as those used by County staff?  Different methods can yield different results.

Voices from across Sarasota County have asked questions or expressed skepticism about this process. They include media outlets, members of various City Commissions, the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County, and county residents.

Commissioner Detert has stated that “…it’s 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.”

Early redistricting may also disenfranchise some residents who would have voted in 2020, but who may be moved into County Commission Districts not voting until 2022. And after the 2020 Census, District boundaries will be changed again. Redistricting at any cost is not the way to restore anyone’s faith in their government, but it does confirm that voters were right to call for more direct representation and accountability from the County Commission. 

Pat Rounds is a founding member of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.

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