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Mayor Curry quietly signs redistricting maps, despite calls to veto them

Shannon Leduke

Mayor Lenny Curry quietly signed off on new voting districts that civil rights groups say amount to racial gerrymandering and diluting the voting power of Black communities in Jacksonville.

Curry's office confirmed Tuesday that he signed the new voting maps into effect late last week, after repeated requests for comment from WJCT News. He made no formal announcement about the signing.

Curry's office did not to respond to criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Northside Coalition and the Jacksonville NAACP that the maps pack Black voters into four districts. The civil rights groups were calling on the mayor to veto the maps.

"This was signed late last week. We have no further comment at this time," spokesperson Nikki Kimbleton wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon.

In a February letter to council members, obtained by The Tributary, civil rights groups threatened "legal problems" if the council didn't create districts that "avoid the overconcentration of Black voters."

ACLU media strategist Kevin Pallasch declined Monday to comment on whether the organization would proceed with a lawsuit in Jacksonville if Curry signed the maps.

"At this time, we cannot comment on potential future litigation. We’ll make sure to let you know if there are any updates on our end," Pallasch wrote.

The maps passed Jacksonville City Council in a 17-1 vote. Rory Diamond was the sole no vote.

The move came after a 14-month process, during which council members voted to prioritize changing the maps as little as possible from the version drafted after the last census in 2010. Critics said that decision made it easier for incumbents to get re-elected.

Hundreds of residents criticized the maps over the course of four public hearings, but almostnone of their feedback was implemented into the approved maps.

"Throughout this process, Citizens demanded fair maps, but our voices were not just ignored — they were stifled. Jacksonville deserves better," ACLU of Florida Northeast Chapter President Michelle Charron Hollie wrote in response to the council's approval of the maps.

The Jacksonville NAACP echoed these concerns.

"These maps fail to reflect the full richness of our city," President Isaiah Rumlin wrote. "Anti-voter politicians on the Council have unnecessarily 'packed' four districts with Black residents, diminishing Black voters’ influence in other districts."

Rules Committee Chair Brenda Priestly Jackson, who oversaw the redistricting process, has repeatedly defended the maps amid criticism in recent months.

"I believe these proposed maps adequately and fairly represent the needs of all of our neighbors, and it allows the neighbors in (Districts) 7, 8, 9 and 10 to maintain self determination and decide who they vote for and where their voice is in the communities where they live,” Priestly Jackson told City Council.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, cities must analyze whether minority communities are able to elect candidates of their choice. If not, they must draw voting districts that ensure equal representation.

Voting rights advocates say council members maintained the four historic majority-Black voting districts by assuming they ensure equal representation, but without actually analyzing voting data, and in effect diluted the influence of Black voters throughout the rest of the city.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.