A Stronger Case Against Redistricting?

Under The Hood

Census estimates courtesy Sarasota County.

The last time Sarasota County Commissioners adopted new boundaries for county commission districts, they ended up in court. And they won. So as the process starts anew, post-Census, is there any reason to think there will be a different outcome out of another suit?

Well, it’s too early to know, of course. While the county commission plans to redraw its lines by the end of the calendar year, it’s a little early know what case might — of let’s face it, will—be made in any litigation before the next election. It’s entirely possible the commission, which beat back accusations of racial discrimination last year, left with the lesson anything goes. And heck, that takeaway is valid. But I can’t help but think there’s a significant possibility the commission will overplay its hand, prove the case Newtown residents brought last time and strengthen a similar challenge in 2022.

The chief concern I would have is that plaintiffs before suspected the commission had shoved Black residents out of a District 1 election up for vote in 2020 and packed them into District 2, where no election would be held until 2022. This meant a reliable Democratic voting bloc lost their vote in a race where many felt there was a good shot to elect the first Democratic county commissioner in decades. To top it all off, one of the residents moved happened to be former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins, a Democrat who had filed for the seat and a Black candidate.

But ultimately courts couldn’t accept that racial animus played a principle role in the decision. Looking at the process in isolation, that’s a hard case to make. Sure, there’s the suspicious timing of redistricting right after single-member districts went into effect and right before the once-a-decade Census took place, but that proves tomfoolery, not racial discrimination. After all, lots of residents ended up temporarily disenfranchised by being moved into districts that weren’t voting in commissioners in November. Besides, you only get to vote for one commissioner these days and voters would have their chance in two years.

The bottom line is redistricting is a brutal, outwardly political process . At the local level, there’s not much check on basic fairness with a process so innately unfair as letting incumbent county commissioners approve their own political boundaries. Proving motives extended  into the realm of racial discrimination proved too big a lift.

So what if it happens again?

Let’s lay out the obvious fear critics of this ugly process have. What if county commissioners once again kick a neighborhood of Black voters out of a jurisdiction ready to vote next election and into one that doesn’t vote until 2024? Those voters would go six years without an opportunity to vote for a county commissioner. That the Census only verifies the population estimates used by the county last time proved so far off makes defending them that much harder.

While many neighborhoods were impacted by the 2019 redistricting, surely far fewer will be similarly affected by 2021’s. It’s those voters affected twice in a row who will have a case to make they have been treated unfairly. I’m no lawyer, but if a disproportionate number belong to a racial minority, that seems an easy complaint to write.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

Census estimates courtesy Sarasota County.

« View The Saturday Oct 9, 2021 SRQ Daily Edition
« Back To SRQ Daily Archive

Read More

Scanning the Horizon: The Gulf Coast Beyond COVID

Scanning the Horizon: The Gulf Coast Beyond COVID

Mark Pritchett | Oct 16, 2021

Take the Survey on the American Rescue Plan

Take the Survey on the American Rescue Plan

Christine Robinson | Oct 16, 2021

Freshmen Arrive at New SCF Collegiate School

Freshmen Arrive at New SCF Collegiate School

Oct 16, 2021

Customized Career Coaching Helps Students Succeed

Customized Career Coaching Helps Students Succeed

Dr. Patricia Okker | Oct 9, 2021