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Jacksonville's new redistricting map gets 17-1 approval by City Council

Council voted 17-1 for a map that faces a possible lawsuit by civil rights organizations that contend Jacksonville continues to weaken the power of Black voters.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A new map for Jacksonville City Council districts will set the playing field for candidates in next year's election without making any major changes to the shape of the districts or the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats.

Council voted 17-1 for the map that faces the possibility of a lawsuit by civil rights organizations that contend Jacksonville continues to weaken the power of Black voters by intentionally packing them into four Northwest Jacksonville districts so they have less influence in other districts.

Council members praised the redistricting process and the map that emerged from it.

"I think it's a great product and we're going to move Jacksonville forward," City Council President Sam Newby said.

Click here to read more from The Florida Times-Union

The once-a-decade redistricting is required to bring a rough balance in population among 14 City Council districts based on changes in growth of each between the 2010 Census and the 2020 Census.

The new map also will affect the boundaries of the seven School Board districts where each seat on the board represents a combination of two council districts. That change for School Board districts won't take place until after its election this year, however.

Council member Rory Diamond cast the lone vote against the redrawn lines, saying the process was designed to keep the status quo and protect incumbents from being drawn out of the districts they represent.

"I think that in order to move Jacksonville forward, we're going to have to let go a little bit of the status quo and have a little bit of newness happening in our City Council," he said.

The new map will basically keep the same balance of power in each district for party registration.

Democrats hold five of the 14 district seats on City Council. Republicans represent nine other districts plus all five at-large seats elected countywide, giving the GOP a 14-5 advantage in council. 

The Duval County Democratic Party Executive Committee urged City Council to reject the new map.

"The current maps further cement incumbents while sacrificing accurate representation of the Jacksonville community, dilute the Black vote by over-packing certain districts, and artificially inflate the Republican Party’s position," the committee said in a statement released Tuesday.

City Council member Brenda Priestly Jacksonville, who is chairwoman of the Rules Committee that was in charge of public hearings on the redistricting legislation, repeated her past assertion that if civil rights organizations believe the process violated the 14th Amendment, they have a duty to challenge it in court.

She said she disagrees with that view and strongly supports Jacksonville keeping districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 covering parts of Northwest Jacksonville as districts where Black voters can elect their preferred candidates.

She said that from the start of the redistricting process in January 2021 through a special redistricting committee's decision in August to use the existing map as a guide for making adjustments, she had not heard any concerns about districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 being "packed" with too many Black voters.

"That's 267,769 neighbors that live in 7, 8, 9 and 10," she said. "If any conversations were going to be had to radically alter those districts when we had not received concerns, that was the group that needed to be met with first." 

Districts with heavily Black population under scrutiny

Districts 7, 8, 9, and 10 are heavily Black by population and have been Democratic Party strongholds, reflecting overwhelming alignment of Black voters with the Democratic Party.

Black residents are 58% of the population in District 7, 66% in District 8, 57% in District 9, and 58% in District 10.

The populations of those four districts have had large Black majorities for decades and have regularly elected Black Democrats to City Council.

A study commissioned by the Northside Coalition, the Northeast Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters, and the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP found a smaller share of Black voters still could elect a candidate preferred by Black voters.

University of Texas Professor Hannah Walker said in her report the Black voting-age population in a council district would need to be at 41-44% of that district for a "Black-preferred candidate to achieve electoral success."

Opponents of the new map have not presented their own proposed maps showing how they would reduce the number of Black residents in Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 so other districts have more Black residents.

In the existing map and the new map, Democrats have advantages by party registration in five districts, Republicans have numbers decisively in four districts, and five districts would have differences of 4 percent or less between Republicans and Democrats.

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