How to rig democracy in Jacksonville
Why redistricting is so important and complicated
Maps, maps, maps
Jacksonville’s redistricting in the coming months will shape how the city handles racial equity, poverty, crime and nearly every major lever of public policy in the next decade.
Unlike the state legislature, which is barred from partisan gerrymandering due to constitutional amendments that passed in 2010, the city is not under similar restrictions, which means it’s free to seek partisan advantages in its new maps.
Jacksonville’s consolidated government is represented by 19 City Council members, 14 of whom come from neighborhood districts and five of whom come from countywide at-large seats.
Jacksonville is a racially and politically segregated city, which makes it even easier to draw maps that favor one side over another. But even among people who want to see fairer maps, it’s not clear what “fairer” actually means. Whatever a map drawer prioritizes comes with other downsides.
Donald Trump barely beat Hillary Clinton here in 2016 and he lost the county in 2020, while Democrats Andrew Gillum, Bill Nelson and Nikki Fried all won the county in 2018. Yet Jacksonville has just six Democrats on the 19-member council thanks to a map where Democrats are heavily concentrated in five districts.
After the 2010 Census, the City Council approved maps with wide population disparities — District 14 had 10 percent more people than District 7 — with an emphasis on ensuring particularly high Black population percents for designated minority-access districts and only one district crossing the St. Johns River.
Three of the five council members on the 2021 committee tasked with redistricting are Democrats, but their plan is subject to a vote by a council with a Republican super-majority. In the past, Democrats worried about their own re-elections have advocated for packing in Democrats into a few districts, which overall favors Republicans.
When I was at the Times-Union, we asked 2019 City Council candidates about redistricting. Of the five council members on the redistricting committee, three answered redistricting questions during their campaigns.
Brenda Priestly Jackson said she favored drawing districts that represented actual neighborhoods and didn’t “snip all around” the city. Randy DeFoor said she’d apply the state constitutional principles of not favoring one party over another. Reggie Gaffney said he’d use common sense and fairness in opposing gerrymandering.
I built some maps using the 2018 American Community Survey population estimates to give a preview of how redistricting might look in the months ahead. We’ll get a clearer picture once the 2020 Census data is released. I built these maps in Dave’s Redistricting App. If you want to build some of your own maps, please email them to me, and I’ll highlight some of them in future newsletters.
You can see interactive versions of the maps I drew below by clicking here.
Each of the maps I drew stayed within one-percent population deviations, except for the partisan maps, which were kept to 10-percent deviations, similar to the maps City Council drew in 2011.
Some people prefer districts that look compact and pretty, but oftentimes neighborhoods themselves aren’t compact or pretty, and even pretty districts can be misleading. This map shows Trump would’ve won nine districts in 2016 with slight margins in five districts, and Gillum would’ve won seven in 2018, with four having margins lower than 10 percentage points.
Some people prefer districts that ensure a more proportional outcome to the county at large, but those districts are less likely to be compact or reflective of neighborhoods. In this map, Trump would’ve won eight of 14 districts in 2016, while winning the county by one percentage point, and Gillum would’ve won eight of 14 districts in 2018, while winning the county by four percentage points.
Some want maps that ensure greater minority representation on City Council, but that can have the effect of packing in Democrats into districts that are likely to be less competitive. After the 2010 Census, the City Council approved maps with four Black majority districts, but there is still debate about whether a district needs to be more than two-thirds Black, as some of the districts currently are, in order to ensure minority-representation on the City Council. If each of those districts were less Black, then there could be five or six minority-access districts.
Others prefer as many competitive districts as possible, but a map like that means either side could win more than 75 percent of districts with just 55 percent of the vote. This is also the map that looks the ugliest and requires
And for many partisans, if they’re being honest, they just want to see maps where their side is favored. Republicans could draw maps where they would’ve won all but two districts in an average of 2016 and 2018 elections, and Democrats could draw maps where they would’ve won all but three districts.
In the GOP map, assuming Republicans and Democrats each got 50 percent of the vote in Duval, Republicans would win all but two districts.
Drawing gerrymanders comes with a risk for partisans. If you get too greedy, you run the risk of drawing a “dummymander”, where you try to win too many districts and end up spreading your voters too thin. In the Democratic map I drew, Clinton and Gillum won all but three districts, but that only happens because Democrats don’t run up the score in any one single district. If Republicans and Democrats split the county 50-50, Democrats would win all but three districts, but in 2016 when Marco Rubio won the county by 16 percentage points, Rubio would’ve won all 14 districts.
Even though City Council doesn’t have to abide by the state’s constitutional amendments prohibiting partisan gerrymandering, it does have to abide by the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial gerrymandering. Usually, the appropriate way to measure racial gerrymandering is to look at how many districts have enough Black or overall non-white citizen voting-age population to elect representatives from underrepresented groups.
Some areas have more racially polarized voting with white voters almost exclusively voting Republican and Black voters almost exclusively voting Democratic. Those areas, which historically have included Jacksonville, require higher percentages of Black residents in order to elect Black lawmakers. The 2020 results, however, saw Black voters more likely to vote Republican than in the past and white voters more likely to vote Democratic.
Start your week off…
With this infuriating report from WJXT’s Zachery Lashway about a woman facing prosecution after police violently busted out her teeth.
I spoke to Brittany Williams for a story in May, but this is the first time we’re seeing body-worn camera footage. I had requested that footage back in May, and I requested it again earlier this month, but JSO still claims it’s not a public record and the State Attorney’s Office hasn’t responded.
Brittany Williams is a Paxon graduate. Earlier this year, she saw a police car park in her driveway. She asked the officer in the car if she could help him, and he said he was parking there to finish paperwork. She asked him to leave, but he refused. According to him, she flung a spoon into his car and it hit his arm. This, prosecutors argue, constituted a battery on an officer. She called 911 to ask that the officer leave the property. Instead, the police who arrived ran after her, banged her head into the ground and knocked her teeth out.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson, who campaigned as a reformer, is not prosecuting the police but is prosecuting Williams for battery against the officer.
In his incident report, the officer claimed he had to park there because street traffic was so busy, but Williams’ footage, as well as the body-camera footage contradicts that.
He also claimed the spoon went into his car, but footage shows an officer picking up a spoon outside the car.
Officers also claimed she knocked her own teeth out on the door, but footage contradicts that.
A lot has been happening behind the scenes lately, and I’m hoping to be able to update y’all soon as I work to finalize some deals.
I’m going to take a deeper dive into some of the year-end data points, including homicides and COVID deaths.