SARASOTA — Sarasota County commissioners asked for more details about a topic that that some critics are claiming is partisan.
Raised in late February and again during the April 9 meeting, Commissioner Nancy Detert suggested the commissioners consider redistricting now in advance of the November 2020 general election and the annual census that occurs every 10 years.
“I’ve looked at the numbers and they’re totally out of balance from district to district,” Detert said. “We have every right to change our boundaries and we need to do it before the 2020 election because whoever loses could claim the numbers weren’t right.”
Detert, along with Commissioner Mike Moran, will face re-election in 2020 in what will be the first election since the 1990s that commissioners will run from single-member districts. Voters overwhelmingly approved the change to single-member districts last November.
In the past, commissioners ran countywide races although each represented a single district.
While Detert might be correct in her assessment considering the explosive growth in South County, she was referencing only the numbers of registered voters in the five commission districts.
According to data provided by Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner’s office, the number of registered voters in each district do tend to confirm Detert’s assertion.
District 1 – 56,198
District 2 – 60,695
District 3 – 64,574
District 4 – 63,295
District 5 – 73,007
While County Attorney Rick Elbrecht confirmed that state election laws allow the commission to fix the boundaries “from time to time,” the statutes also requires the boundaries to be based on population, not voter registrations.
The law also requires that redistricting be done in odd-numbered years, meaning that the commission would have to complete the task in 2019.
With local Democrats seeing an opportunity to finally pick up a seat on the Republican dominated commission under the new scheme, they were quick to claim partisanship was at play.
Sarasota Democratic state committeeman Kevin Griffith charged that it was nothing more that partisan gerrymandering in a statement to the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
Kindra Muntz, one of the leaders of the single-member district movement, saw it as an attempt by powerful local interests to protect their control of the commission.
Despite knowing that criticism would follow, commissioners decided to move forward tentatively. They requested that County Administrator Jonathan Lewis investigate what population data sets might be available to use in the effort, and that Elbrecht provide information about any legal issues involved.
Lewis said he expects to have the information available for commissioners in May, and they will decide at that time if they want to proceed with the exercise.