On Wednesday, we examined how gerrymandering by the Florida legislature has led to state House districts that cluster together heavily Democratic African-American voters at the expense of geographic logic.
Exhibit A was state House District 55, which groups together a large number of voters in southern St. Petersburg with slender slices of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties (all across the Sunshine Skyway from St. Pete), resulting in a district where 55 percent of the citizens are African-American. That gerrymandering has created a situation in which large swaths of voters in the southern chunk of District 55 feel under-represented because of their distance from the district’s seat of power.
One note that didn’t make it into our initial report is how recently Sarasota was incorporated into District 55. The shift occurred only in 2002, and maps of the district from before that time offer a revealing glimpse at how gerrymandering significantly affects minority communities like Sarasota’s.
Here is how Southwest Florida was divided between 1996 and 2002:
Southwest Florida Legislative Districts (1996-2002) –
Of note here is the fact that Sarasota’s Newtown community — the heart of the city’s African-American life — was then not a part of District 55, but was instead grouped in with District 69, whose northernmost boundary apes the northern border of Sarasota County.
Now look at a current map of the region’s districts:
State House District 69 (2002-Present) –
You can see clearly how, in 2002, the legislature incorporated Newtown’s voters into District 55 at the expense of geographic logic, separating them from their formerly Sarasota-based representative. District 69 was redrawn as well, keeping intact its more privileged Sarasota territory, located to the west of U.S. 41, and extending its boundaries well into Manatee County.
Just a quick example of how the voices of minority communities in Florida are at the mercy of Florida politicians.