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A by the Numbers Look at the BOCC Draft Redistricting Maps

MANATEE — Despite some disagreement in Tuesday’s regular meeting, Manatee County Commissioners have successfully narrowed down three draft maps to just two that will now move forward in the county’s redistricting process. However, while one of the maps selected clearly advances the board's stated goals, the other does not, leading some to question the motivation of its inclusion.

Disagreements aside, there have been a few consistently stated and accepted goals that commissioners have agreed upon; redistricting should be an effort to balance each of the county’s districts to account for rapid growth within current Districts 1 and 5; the minority vote shall neither be diluted nor stacked; the process should play out with ample transparency and public input; the final product map must be legally defensible.

The two draft maps the board has advanced with expectations of further "tweaking" or revisions—in an effort to get to a finalized map—appear to have some significant differences between them. One of the two draft maps seems to be much more in keeping with the agreed-upon presiding goals meant to be guiding the redistricting process, the other, an edition offered by Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh, seems to depart from those goals.

In the commission's first meeting on redistricting, John Guthrie, the redistricting consultant hired by the county, explained to the board that Districts 1 and 5—which have seen the most development and growth within the last ten years—will need to reduce their overall population in order to bring all of the county's districts into more equal population balance. Additionally, Guthrie explained that when distributing the county's population across all five districts, it would be prudent to also take into consideration the anticipated future growth of Districts 1 and 5, which have the most remaining development entitlements of the five districts. This could be achieved by setting these districts' total populations at the lower end of the range, leaving room for their continued growth, without threatening the equalization redistricting is intended to achieve.

Guthrie included in his professional guidance to the board that they must also be mindful of the county's districts which contain the greatest minority representation, the greatest of which is District 2, which covers most of Palmetto and the central corridor of Bradenton. He cautioned the commission that if they were to make substantial or otherwise avoidable changes to such a district, it could bring legal challenges under the Federal Voting Rights Act. This federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting and prevents policymakers from diluting any minority group’s ability to elect representation.

The three maps before the board in Tuesday’s meeting consisted of a draft map created by a redistricting consultant hired by the county, John Guthrie, labeled Map A. The map Commissioner Vanessa Baugh stated she independently drafted, labeled Map B, and a third draft submitted by Commissioner Misty Servia, labeled Map C. After some discussion–that at some moments grew politically heated–the board voted to move forward Map A (the consultant’s rendering) and Map B (Commissioner Baugh’s rendering), removing Commissioner Servia’s draft from further consideration or revisions.

From Top to Bottom: Consultant Guthrie's draft Map A, Commissioner Vanessa  Baugh's draft Map B, Commissioner Misty Servia's draft Map C. (Images obtained from Manatee County Commission Regular Meeting Agenda dated 11/16/21)
The three proposed draft maps were attached to the meeting’s agenda less than 24 hours prior to the start of Tuesday's meeting, leaving little time for the public or commissioners to review and compare the options. Each map included a data table that displayed deviations as percentages and whole numbers, their proposed total populations, and voting age population (VAP) demographics per each of their re-drawn district boundaries.

The provided data tables appear to show some contradictions between the board’s main goals through the redistricting process and the population totals and deviation ranges of Map A and Map B, as well as their proposed redistricted VAP demographics.

By the Numbers

Setting aside the redistricted boundary line proposals for a moment and taking only into consideration the data tables embedded into each map, some questions arise as to whether one is as equal in the intention of the stated goals—reduce District 1 and District 5's total populations while preserving the minority vote of District 2—as the other.

Range is a commonly used measure of population equality, or inequality, in redistricting maps. The "range" displays population deviations of the most populated districts and the least populated districts, an important measure because the overall goal of redistricting is to balance the voter population better equalizing the county’s representation. In Florida, the accepted deviation is not to be more than 10 percentage points between any of the districts.

For example, when dividing the total population by the number of districts results in an ideal district population of 100,000 to divide as equally as possible, and the largest district in the plan has a population of 102,000, and the smallest district has a population of 99,000, then the range is +2,000 and -1,000 on the "deviation" line of the table, or +2 percent and -1 percent on the "deviation percentage" line. In the data tables embedded in the two selected draft maps these data lines appear near the top of the chart, just below "Total Population."

Upon closer examination, we can see that Map A, provided by consultant John Guthrie, reduced the total population for both Districts 1 and 5, keeping with the agreed-upon goal of bringing into better balance the most rapidly growing districts by reducing their overall populations while raising the population of remaining Districts 2, 3, and 4. The deviation values are also lesser for Districts 2, 3, and 4, expressed as -4.7 percent, or -3,778, for District 1, and -4.9 percent, or -3,909, for District 5.

Data Table from Map A, draft proposed by hired consultant, John Guthrie
Map B, provided by Commissioner Baugh, also brought the total population of District 1 into the lower range but appears to bring the total population of District 5 into a middle range, increasing the population deviation of District 5 a half of a percent, or by 411. Map B does in fact decrease the population of Districts 1 and 5 as compared to their current populations of 93,050 and 93,910 respectively, but still provides that District 5 would be the third-largest district in the county, possibly limiting its ability for expected continued growth without upsetting the equalization redistricting is meant to address.

Data Table from Map B, a draft proposed by County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh

When looking back at the proposed draft offered by Commissioner Servia (Map C), which was not selected to move forward in the process, it too reduced the total population of the two most rapidly growing districts, dropping their total populations below that of Districts 2, 3, and 4. The .5 percent deviation for District 5 only occurs on Map B, Commissioner Baugh’s proposed draft.

Data Table from Map C, a discarded draft proposed by County Commissioner Misty Servia

What about the remaining districts; District 2, District 3, and District 4? In theory, to balance the rapidly growing populations of Districts 1 and 5, each of the remaining three districts would see an increased total population through the redistricting process, expanding their boundaries enough to bring them into an equalized "plus" deviation range of the five districts' populations.

In Map A, drafted by the consultant, Districts 2, 3, and 4 each see an increase in their total population compared to their current populations, as well as plus deviation percentages showing an equalization that will provide future growth-space for Districts 1 and 5, something that is also seen in the data table of Map C (the draft map which was not selected to move forward in the process). Map A and Map C also both show a similar range of total population and deviation between Districts 2, 3, and 4. However, in Map B, provided by Baugh, Districts 2 and 3 see a plus deviation percentage, but District 4 experiences a -1.7 percent, or -1,365 population deviation, leaving District 5 more populous than District 4. Being that District 4 is not a rapidly growing district of concern, this adjustment is hard to reconcile, particularly beside a plus .5 percent deviation in District 5.

Currently, District 4 is the county's third most populous district, with District 5 being the county's first most populous district. Map B would make District 4 the second least populous district—second only to District 1—leaving District 5 with a deviation range greater than that of District 4 and taking District 4's spot as the third most populous district in the county.

Data Table from Map A, draft proposed by hired consultant, John Guthrie. District 2, 3, and 4 deviations highlighted.

Data Table from Map B, a draft proposed by County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. District 2, 3, and 4 deviations highlighted.

What about the preservation of the minority vote within Districts 2 and 4? In the second and third boxes, the data tables offer "Total Voting Age Population" or "VAP" divided by voter demographics and represented as a total percentage of a district's voting-age population. To have a better understanding of potential future VAP demographics in Districts 2 and 4, it is helpful to view how those percentages exist today.

Each of the draft maps before the board in Tuesday's meeting (Maps A, B, and C) diluted the current level of minority representation in District 4. The current Black VAP in District 4 is 9 percent and the Hispanic VAP is 24 percent, giving the district a combined 33 percent minority VAP. Map A and Map B reduced this combined minority VAP to roughly 23 percent in their proposed District 4 divisions.

The current demographic VAP data for District 2 is 20.6 percent Black VAP and 29 percent Hispanic VAP. The current combined VAP minority percentage for District 2 is 49.6 percent—the highest percentage of minority VAP within any county district. Given the need to increase the overall VAP of District 2 to bring all districts within a percentage population deviation no greater than 10 percent, we should anticipate that the minority VAP within District 2 should remain close to stable, or if adjusting, may increase.

Data Table obtained from the Current Districts Benchmark Map attached to Manatee Commission regular meeting dated 11/16/21 Page 39 of the agenda packet.

While both Map A and Map B increase the overall population of District 2, there are differences in their demographic percentages as compared to one another and compared to District 2’s current VAP demographic. For starters, Map B reduced both the Black and Hispanic VAP bringing the combined total down to 47.8 percent compared to its current 49.6 percent. Map A's proposal would provide for a combined minority VAP of 51.8 percent, a two-percentage-point increase over its current minority VAP percentage.

Map B also increased the White VAP in District 2 as compared to its current White VAP demographics, something Map A does not do.

Data Table from Map A, draft proposed by hired consultant, John Guthrie. District 2 highlighted.

 In Map A, the White VAP for District 2 decreases slightly from its current 47.9 percent to a redistricted 45.8 percent, while the Black VAP stays within a change of less than a percentage point of the current district demographic, at 19.8 percent. Hispanic VAP increases to 32 percent vs the current 29 percent. However, Map B’s proposed changes would bring the White VAP percentage up in District 2 from its current 47.9 percent to 49.4 percent, while the Black VAP is decreased from its current 20.6 percent by nearly three percentage points down to 18.2 percent. The Hispanic VAP at its current percentage of 29, shows a slight increase to 29.6 percent in the redistricting proposal of Map B.

Data Table from Map B, a draft proposed by County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. District 2 highlighted.
Though Map C was ultimately not selected by the board to move forward as a draft for further consideration, its proposed re-draws would provide VAP demographics for District 2 that are similar in adjustment to Map A; 46.3 percent White VAP, 19.8 percent Black VAP, and 31.4 percent Hispanic VAP.

Provided for Public Review

The Manatee County Commission has stressed their desire that both maps be accessible to the public for review and input. Residents can anticipate displays being erected in county libraries, the county's administration building lobby downtown, as well as accessible on the county's website and posted to the official Manatee Government Facebook page.

While both draft redistricting maps appear to meet the state's requirement of bringing the county's districts into population deviations no greater than ten percentage points, and both may be legally defensible, other considerations still remain for the commission as they continue the process of revising and eventually producing a final map for Manatee County’s redistricting. Not least among those considerations are public input and the final redrawn district boundary lines.

As it appeared attached in agenda documents for Tuesday's meeting, Map A proposed a significant decrease to District 5's eastern boundary, reallocating the rural eastern portion of its current territory to District 1. Map A appears to keep District 5's western boundary similar to how it exists today. Accommodating the eastern rural expansion of District 1, Map A recedes District 1's current north-western boundary, allocating the coastal area of Terra Ceia to District 3–a welcomed adjustment by District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge whose district currently includes most of the county's coastal lands and the islands. District 1 Commissioner James Satcher is less satisfied with his district giving up its only coastal land, as he has expressed previously a desire to one day reside in the Terra Ceia area–something he would not be able to do while District 1 commissioner if that territory is no longer within the district he represents.

Map B preserves most of the existing coastal lands within District 1—including Satcher's preferred inclusion of Terra Ceia—assigning slightly more of District 5's eastern populated boundary to District 1 to adjust its populous. Unlike Map A, to accommodate the increased expansion of District 1 to the west, District 5's western boundary expands into Districts 2 and 4's existing territories. Additionally, there is a drastic push of District 4's current western boundary–the subject of some of the tense exchange in Tuesday's meeting–stretching it all the way to 75th Street, a shift also not appearing on Map A.

In time, and with closer inspection and scrutiny, the numbers and proposed boundary lines may provide additional insight into which map may be the more equitable proposal, and which of the two best rises to meet the goals of bringing district populations into balance and reducing the population of Districts 1 and 5, while also preserving the county minority's ability to elect representation.


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