Council Members Will Face Challenge Of Drawing New District Maps Following Election

Mar 12, 2019

When voters make their picks for members of Jacksonville’s next City Council, they’re also deciding who’ll draw the maps for local elections until 2031.

Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports when council members who’ll be sworn in this year will oversee a redistricting process that will set boundary lines for council and School Board district seats after the 2020 census is completed in Duval County.

The data-heavy process is tedious and arcane, but it’s also important for neighborhoods and for minority groups who want a voice at City Hall.

Satisfying them both has gotten harder over time.

Related: WJCT Voters' Guide

“People tend to complain about the shape of the districts,” said School Board member Warren Jones, who was a council member when the current boundaries were drawn in November 2011.

Jones said he’d like his own district, which equals two council districts and stretches from Trout River Boulevard on the Northside to Collins Road on the Westside, to be more compact.

Current City Council Districts

Credit City of Jacksonville

But long, sometimes looping boundary lines can be needed to connect “communities of interest,” a legal term for groups, some traditionally segregated, that can exercise collective voting power.

“That challenge gets more difficult as the years go by because the neighborhoods become less homogeneous,” said Jones, who has run for office under district lines drawn after five different censuses.

Minority populations have grown in Duval County, although 53 percent of the county was still non-Hispanic white in 2017, the most recent data available.

Current City Council At-Large Districts

Credit City of Jacksonville

The council’s minority numbers have gradually grown too. Seven of the 19 council members — 37 percent — picked in the 2015 election were nonwhite. Six were black and one was Asian-American.

Five of those were elected from the council’s 14 districts, with the others chosen at-large. Four came from districts designed to be “minority-access” seats, all areas where a heavy majority of voters were black.

“The way they’re drawn might be on the aggressive side, but it’s good that they try to draw them that way,” said Brian Amos, a visiting professor at the University of North Florida who has focused on redistricting and testing for the presence of gerrymandering.

Federal law bars district lines that keep racial minorities from taking equal part in elections, and Amos said Jacksonville’s districts tying together black voters in separate neighborhoods is a practical solution.

Jacksonville’s black population was once centered in neighborhoods around the city’s core, but a number of those have shrunk over time while more people of all races have moved farther from downtown.

Since the 2010 census, developments near places like Oceanway on the Northside and Town Center on the Southside have helped fuel the outward push and complicated the process of trying to tie four black-majority districts to the core city. The district council seats averaged a little short of 62,000 people in 2011, but will average several thousand more in the next redistricting.

An expanded version of this story is available on Jacksonville.com.