With new information calling into question validity of data used in County Commission redistricting process, survey responses on initiative jump more than 300 in final few days

On Oct. 7, County Commission to consider authorizing advertisement of new maps for formal public hearing

This graphic on the county website offers data about the respondents to the county survey. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Altogether, 2,083 surveys on the proposed redrawing of Sarasota County Commission district lines this year were submitted as of Oct. 1, the county’s deadline for those responses, according to the county’s webpage devoted to redistricting.

A tally on Oct. 2 put the number completed online at 2,042, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader that day.

On the morning of Sept. 30, Winchester reported that more than 1,700 surveys had been completed.

The late rush of responses followed the Sept. 29 publication of a Sarasota Herald-Tribune story that called into question the accuracy of the population figures a Tallahassee consultant provided to county staff for the redistricting process.

In that article, reporter Zac Anderson quoted Richard Doty, a subcontractor hired by Kurt Spitzer & Associates of Tallahassee. An employee of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR), Doty said he told county staff that “[e]stimating population at the neighborhood — or census block — level is so difficult to do accurately” that it should not be done until the new Census figures were available.

“I was brutally honest and upfront about the limitations of trying to do it at the block level,” Doty told Anderson, referring to Doty’s advice to Spitzer. “We could do it but it wasn’t always going to be accurate at the block level. That’s just not the way this works.”

Anderson added, “But having accurate population data at the census block level is critical for redistricting because the micro areas are the basis for redrawing the commission district boundaries.”

Doty creates official population estimates for the state in his position at BEBR, Anderson pointed out.

Additionally, the Democratic Club of Sarasota sent out an email blast over the weekend to its members, urging them to fill out the survey. Further encouragement came through social media posts, the News Leader saw.

The survey total was far higher than turnout at the public open houses staff conducted in all the districts, so people could view the three alternative redistricting maps that consultant Kurt Spitzer had produced, as well as ask questions about the commission’s initiative and fill out the survey. Winchester also told the News Leader on Sept. 30 that he did not believe everyone who went to the open houses signed in, buthis best guess was that the average attendance was 20.

Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant did report to the News Leader that staff counted 25 people at the second open house, which was held on Sept. 19 at the FrancesT. Bourne Jacaranda Public Library in Venice.

On Oct. 7, the County Commission is scheduled to vote on authorizing the advertisement of a public hearing to adopt new district boundaries. A staff memo in the agenda packet points out that, on April 9, the commission set the redistricting process in motion by requesting that “staff produce a report outlining the logistics and timeline for the board” to complete the redrawing of new lines this year. Under state law, the board must complete that process by Dec. 31, if it chooses to go forward with it. Thus far, only Commissioner Christian Ziegler has voted against redrawing the boundaries before the 2020 Census results have been released.

The staff memo also points out, “In order to proceed with redistricting, the Board must select one or more maps to be advertised for consideration at the public hearing that will be held to adopt the new district map. Due to the advertisement requirements of the county charter, no changes can be made to an advertised map at the public hearing without restarting the advertising process and requiring another public hearing.

Therefore, all maps that the Board desires to consider at the public hearing should be advertised. If the Board is unable to decide on which maps to advertise, or wants changes to the maps proposed, a special meeting can be held the week of October 20, 2019 to consider additional maps.”

These are the existing County Commission districts with population and demographic data provided by Kurt Spitzer & Associates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Oct. 7 meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. The redistricting item is on the morning’s agenda. No afternoon session is scheduled that day.

More pleas to halt the process

Following the Oct. 2 joint meeting in Venice of the County Commission and the North Port Commission, three members of the public took the opportunity to plead with the county commissioners to wait until after the 2020 Census data has been made available before pursuing redistricting.

Pat Rounds of Sarasota pointed to Richard Doty’s statements to the Herald-Tribunearticle, emphasizing his remarks about the “big errors” in the population figures.

“I ask you again,” Rounds told the commissioners, “please end this process now.”

Pat Rounds addresses the commissioners on Oct. 2. News Leader image

The “population gold standard,” she added, will be the 2020 Census.

Susette Bryan, representing the nonprofit Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE), also made a repeat appearance before the County Commission on Oct. 2. In previous public comments, she has accused the County Commission of pursuing the redistricting initiative this year in an effort to help Commissioners Nancy Detert and Michael Moran remain in office, as both are up for re-election. (The District 5 seat held by Commissioner Charles Hines also is up for election; because of term limits, he cannot run again.)

Detert announced during the Sept. 11 board meeting that she will file to try to keep her District 3 seat. Moran, who represents District 1, has not commented on his plans.

“This has moved from a cloud to a tsunami,” Bryan told the commissioners this week. “How can you ignore the facts?”

More people are thinking for themselves, she continued, as evidenced by the growing number of citizens registering to vote in Sarasota County with no party affiliation.

As of the morning of Oct. 3, the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website showed the total number of registered voters in the county at 317,088. The breakdown, the website noted, was as follows:

  • Republicans: 134,493.
  • Democrats: 97,260.
  • Other: 85,335.

“I urge you to reconsider this project,” Bryan told the commissioners on Oct. 2. “Do you want this to be your legacy?”

A sampling of survey answers

Kurt Spitzer addresses the County Commission on Aug. 27. File photo

The county webpage devoted to the redistricting initiative appears to provide all the comments staff received on the surveys, based on a News Leader review.

In its spot check of the answers, the News Leader found the following, which it edited only for spelling purposes and to clarify acronyms:

  • “What data are the maps based on How are the projections made Please describe on your website all data used to make projections. What is the cost of this? Can’t we just fix the sewer instead? This is a waste of $$”
  • “1.) What is the [total] cost of redistricting? It is more than the consultants. It includes SOE [Supervisor of Elections] expenses. Also it will probably be redone when 2020 census results are available 2.) I called County Commission office to get information on redistricting. Had 2 questions, was promised call back but never [received] it.”
  • “Have districts been drawn to incorporate County Commissioners? The location of their homes has not been made known.”
  • “All voices must be represented and heard.”
  • “It is a great idea to redistrict and recognize the need as Sarasota’s population increases.”
  • “Doesn’t matter, you all will do whatever you want.”
  • “Needs to be done now.”
  • “This directive is in direct confliction with the principles of Conservatism, the County Comissioners who I’ve voted for sold out.”
  • “Redistricting is essential now that we have moved to Single Member Districts to insure every citizen has equal representation on the County Commission. We know from voter registration data that is simply not the case now. We must do the beast we are able to correct any imbalance prior to our first Single Member District election. I hope this map helps in some way.”

The Single-Member Districts amendment to the Sarasota County Charter, which voters approved on the November 2018 General Election ballot, is the reason commissioners have cited for their need to redistrict this year. That amendment calls for a voter to cast a ballot just for a commission candidate who lives in the voter’s district. Previously, all voters could vote for candidates for every commission seat up for election.

Leaders of SAFE — which gathered enough voter signatures to get the Charter amendment on the ballot — also have pointed out that only Republicans have been elected to the commission for the past 50 years.

1 thought on “With new information calling into question validity of data used in County Commission redistricting process, survey responses on initiative jump more than 300 in final few days”

  1. Hmm, a flurry after the article, and after the tweets and email blasts. Wonder which one generated the most flakes, sorry, flurry.

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