Sarasota County Democratic Party, Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus and Sarasota Democratic Hispanic Caucus cite fact that one of proposed maps would keep Newtown voters from participating in 2020 election
Five days before the Sarasota County Commission conducts a public hearing on two proposed new district maps, the Sarasota County Democratic Party (SCDP) announced that it had voted to join the Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus and the Sarasota Democratic Hispanic Caucus in opposing the commission’s efforts to redraw lines before the end of this year.
In a news release, the SCDP pointed to the decision of three commissioners on Oct. 30 — Nancy Detert, Michael Moran and Alan Maio — to approve the two maps for advertisement. One of those maps, dubbed Alternative 4.1, is “an overtly discriminatory map that manipulates — in fact, gerrymanders — district lines at the expense of Sarasota’s minority communities,” the Democratic Party news release added, with emphasis.
Alternative 4.1 would move Newtown, the African American community in North Sarasota, into District 2, multiple speakers stressed to the commissioners during their Oct. 30 meeting. Therefore, if that map were to be adopted, Newtown residents would be prevented from voting in the 2020 election for the District 1 seat.
The County Commission’s public hearing is set for Tuesday, Nov. 19. The special meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, which is located at 1660 Ringling Blvd.
“A Joint Resolution of the three organizations was discussed and supported overwhelmingly at [the Sarasota County Democratic Party’s] monthly meeting to call on the County Commissioners — particularly Commissioners Detert, Maio and Moran — to move away from applying a new districting map selected on October 30 that clearly disenfranchises many black and other minority voters by potentially postponing their participation in local elections from 2020 to 2022,” the SCDP added in its news release.
The monthly meeting was conducted on Nov. 13, according to the SCDP’s online calendar.
“This is ‘a bridge too far,’” said SCDP Chair Jo Anne DeVries, as noted in the release. “[P]assionate voters spoke at the last meeting” and explained why certain proposed maps “clearly violate federal law and will result not only in diluting the county’s black vote, but literally ‘reversing the choice made by 60% of voters who chose single member county districts in the 2018 election,’” DeVries pointed out during the party’s monthly meeting, the release added, quoting speakers on Oct. 30.
Four of the five county commissioners have stressed the fact that, during the November 2018 election, voters approved an amendment to the Sarasota County Charter that calls for a citizen — starting in 2020 — to cast a ballot just for a candidate who lives in the same district as the citizen. Previously, any citizen voting in a general election with County Commission races on the ballot could vote for a candidate for each seat.
Because of the Single-Member Districts amendment, commissioners contend that each member of the board should represent an equal number of constituents, to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, four of the commissioners have been adamant that redistricting is necessary this year because of population imbalances that have been found among the five districts that were drawn in 2011. Their consultant for the process, Kurt Spitzer of Tallahassee, has noted significant growth in South County since the 2010 Census was conducted.
Only Commissioner Christian Ziegler has opposed redistricting at this time, saying he believes the board should wait until after the 2020 Census results have been released.
On Oct. 30, Ziegler voted against the advertisement of the maps for the Nov. 19 public hearing. Chair Charles Hines joined him, expressing concerns about the inclusion of the Alternative 4.1 map.
Many opponents of the redistricting initiative the board launched early this year have argued that its intent really is to ensure that Moran — who represents District 1 — and Detert — who holds the District 3 seat — stay on the County Commission. Detert has announced that she intends to run again, but Moran thus far has stayed mum on the topic.
All five of the commissioners are Republicans.
Newtown voters traditionally have supported Democratic candidates, speakers said on Oct. 30. The existing configuration of the districts has more voters registered as Democrats in District 1.
Former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins, a Newtown resident, filed earlier this year to run as a Democrat for the District 1 seat. However, if Alternative Map 4.1 were adopted on Nov. 19, he would be unable to continue his campaign.
In its Nov. 14 news release, the Sarasota County Democratic Party also noted the last part of the joint resolution. That says, “The Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus, the Sarasota Democratic Hispanic Caucus and the Sarasota County Democratic Party demand a halt to this and any other racist redistricting process that suppresses minority voters, and support the endeavors of allied organizations such as the NAACP and the ACLU that are taking action to halt this illegal attempt at gerrymandering.”