Sarasota's 2022 Election: Who's choosing whom?
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
In a Democracy, do voters choose their leaders, or do politicians decide who's allowed to vote for them?
On November 15, Sarasota voters will learn which of three redistricting maps the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners accepts as the basis for the 2022 election.
From more than a dozen maps submitted by the public, the Board on October 26 narrowed down its choice to three. One map modestly evens out district population totals without piling on gerrymandering tricks, swaps, and exclusions. The other two options prevent thousands of Sarasotans from voting for a Commissioner in next year’s election, when two Board seats, Districts 2 and 4, are on the ballot.
Taking each map in turn:
I. SPITZER ALTERNATIVE 1-A
This map was created after county consultant Kurt Spitzer submitted his a map he called Alternative 1, and the Board rejected it. Spitzer's contract calls for him to be paid $50,000.
At the Board's direction Spitzer's original map was revised, resulting in a map -- Alternative 1-A -- that moves almost 1,500 residents from District 4 into District 1. As a result, all voters in that group lose their turn to cast their vote for a commission candidate in 2022.
Here is the Board's revision:
Here is Consultant Spitzer's original map, Alternative 1, which the Board rejected. Note: In this map, no one is prevented from voting in his or her district in 2022. However, this map cannot be discussed at the hearing because it is not one of the three maps chosen by the Board:
Below, the crosshatched areas show where the Board's map, Alternative 1-A, displaces people from District 1:
II. Goodrich 1
Goodrich 1, submitted by local litigator Brian Goodrich, introduces major changes. For example: Siesta Key has long been divided into two districts (District 2 is North, District 4 is South). The entire Key would now be in District 4.
District 2 is reshaped along its east side to remove Republican-leaning suburban voters and to add Democratic-leaning suburban voters.
District 4 is scrunched to the West and District 3 runs from I-75 to the eastern edge of the county, except to the South, where it dips to include Venice.
According to an analysis undertaken by Citizens for District Power, Goodrich 1 would disenfranchise 20,165 residents through district displacement:
III. Goodrich 2
Goodrich 2 radically redraws the boundaries of Districts 1 and 2, exchanging large residential sectors between the two districts. Urban voters from the city of Sarasota and barrier islands would be replaced with voters from white rural areas of District 1.
If the commissioners choose Goodrich 2, two-thirds of the residents in the City of Sarasota, all the Town of Longboat Key, along with tens of thousands in Nokomis, Venice, Casey Key, Southgate, Forest Lakes, Saddle Creek, Myakka Valley Ranches and other areas will have to sit out another election to choose their county representative.
District 2 would now stretch 30 miles to the county's eastern border, while its southern edge is extended 12 miles southward.
District 1 is squeezed and stretched to fit the space left over by the changes to Districts 2 and 4, resulting in a corncob pipe shape with urban voters removed in 2019 to protect Moran.
Goodrich 2 also shifts the coastal portions of Districts 3 and 4 northward, placing Siesta Key completely within District 4, just as District 1 does.
The cumulative effect of Goodrich 2 displaces almost 57,000 residents from the districts in which they currently reside:
In taking 57,000 Sarasotans out of the 2022 election, the impact of Goodrich 2 is huge. How, and why, did such dramatic changes deserve to be considered?
Following the passage of the single-member districts referendum in 2018, a portion of Newtown was scheduled to elect a District 1 county commissioner in 2020. That opportunity was cancelled in 2019 when the County Commission shifted that section, with its population of people of color, from District 1 to District 2.
The Board’s 2019 decision was so contentious that a federal judge described it as “political gerrymandering and hardball partisan incumbent protection.” Essentially the Board's 2019 map not only eliminated a Newtown candidate from running against Commissioner Mike Moran in the 2020 District 1 election, but also drew rural and suburban white areas from District 2 into District 1, while swapping thousands of Newtown residents into District 2. In brief, voters were virtually hand picked for compatibility with Moran's pro-development, pro-NRA, pro-Trump campaign. These maneuvers likely saved Moran's District 1 Board seat.
But this 2019 gerrymander has created a new, symmetrically opposite dilemma for the Board: District 2 incumbent Christian Ziegler comes up for re-election in 2022, and his backers worry that the urban areas of Longboat Key, central Sarasota City, and Newtown's people of color could be a problem for him.
Goodrich 2 performs cartwheels to protect Ziegler by moving the residents of Longboat Key, downtown Sarasota and part of Newtown out of Ziegler's District 2 and back into District 1. By extending District 2 into rural east county, Ziegler acquires a far more compatible demographic.
If the Board adopts Goodrich 2, thousands of people shifted in 2020 so they could not vote will be shifted again, blocking them from voting for a Commissioner in 2022.
Goodrich 2 appears to have but one purpose – to replace the 2019 partisan gerrymander that made District 1 safe for Moran with a new partisan gerrymander that protects Ziegler in District 2 next November.
The net effect of all this rigamarole is that the County Commissioners will have appointed the new Commissioner of Longboat Key and urban Sarasota City in two successive election cycles. These double-shuffled residents will go at least six years before being able to vote for a county commissioner.
The politicians were warned not to perpetually disenfranchise communities of color like Newtown when they redrew the districts in 2019. But they might just do it anyway.
If they do, then just as Ziegler was made Newtown’s representative on the County Board by way of the 2020 redistricting, Moran will be the Newtown commissioner for the next two years. The Board will have appointed a commissioner for Longboat Key and urban Sarasota in two successive election cycles, without a single resident casting a ballot.
Summary of Redistricting Impacts on Voters
Alternate 1. Spitzer's original Map disenfranchises no one.
Alternate 1-A Board revised Spitzer's Map to disenfranchise 1,437 residents.
Goodrich 1. Disenfranchises 20,165 residents.
Goodrich 2. Disenfranchises 56,936 residents.