Once a decade we redraw our political districts to reflect the population changes. With information from the 2020 census delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, we recently received the data and have to redraw the boundaries in short-order. BEBR (Bureau of Economic and Business Research) expected the total population numbers to come in slightly higher than the roughly 399,000 census number, but this is the figure we have to use to balance our representation.
Manatee County has 5 independent county commission districts. Growth in the last 10 years has been primarily in the NE and SE portions of the county, and therefore the population has skyrocketed in Districts 1 and 5. Our challenge over the next few months will be to redraw the district boundaries to achieve a more balanced population in all 5 areas. Can you guess who has an opinion about how this should happen? Just about everyone!
While there is a very short amount of time to accomplish this task, in my opinion, it’s critical that the public be involved. Manatee County is in the process of hiring an independent consultant to help us create the new boundaries, and I will press for a committee containing one resident from each of the five districts and an employee from the Supervisor of Elections Office to work with our consultant in an effort to safeguard efforts to game the system.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Miller vs Johnson in 1995 that racial gerrymandering is a violation of constitutional rights and federal law prohibits breaking up minority communities and watering down their voice. Just weeks ago, the Federal Justice Department released a set of redistricting guidelines related to the Voting Rights Act, warning states and local governments redrawing district maps against diluting the voting power of minority communities. Now, I don’t expect racial gerrymandering to be a problem here, but make no mistake that this is serious business and the U.S. Justice Department will take over if there is a misstep.
All district boundaries are going to change and I invite you to engage in the process. Contact your district commissioner and your at-large commissioners to send them your thoughts. State districts can be fiercely partisan, but the local government boundaries should be based on keeping neighborhoods and specific areas together and producing compact districts that represent who we are. Let’s all work together through a transparent and fair process to create the best districts that will serve our community for the next 10-years.
Misty Servia is a county commissioner who represents District 4 and a certified land planner. You can reach her at email@example.com