Clay Yarborough bill would stop incumbent-rigged local redistricting

The Senator's hometown of Jacksonville saw its local redistricting map tossed out by a judge last year.

A former Jacksonville City Council President is making moves in the Senate that could impact future redistricting of that body.

In the wake of a problem-plagued local redistricting process that ultimately saw the City Council’s self-drawn local map, which catered to incumbents, thrown out in federal court, Sen. Clay Yarborough has filed legislation (SB 1080) in response.

The bill would stop City Councils from considering where incumbent County Commissioners, City Council members, and School Board members live while drawing their maps.

“Districts may not be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a candidate for county commission or an incumbent county commissioner based on the candidate’s or incumbent’s residential address. Any ordinance enacted or adopted by a county on or after July 1, 2023, which is in conflict with this subsection is void,” the ordinance reads, effectively grandfathering current County Commission maps.

Similar language holds for municipal districts.

“Each municipality, shall, from time to time, fix the boundaries of its districts so as to keep them as nearly equal in proportion to their respective populations as practicable, provided that such changes are made only in odd-numbered years. Districts may not be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a candidate for member of the governing body or an incumbent member of the governing body based on the candidate’s or incumbent’s residential address,” the language reads, again grandfathering maps approved by July of this year.

Likewise, School Board subdivisions would be checked after July: “Residence areas may not be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a candidate for district school board member or an incumbent district school board member based on the candidate’s or incumbent’s residential address.”

Though this law would apply statewide, it’s hard not to see it as the latest rebuke of a self-dealing process by Jacksonville’s local officials.

Judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled against the local product twice last year, citing its “failure to address Jacksonville’s 30-year history of racial gerrymandering.” Indeed, the Council members, convinced by their Office of General Counsel that they were within the law, sought to craft districts to their liking.

Outgoing Councilman Reggie Gaffney Sr. sought to ensure his preferred successor, Reggie Gaffney Jr., got to run in the same district he did after redistricting. Others pretended they didn’t hear complaints from the activists who ended up suing for redress.

“When we said we wanted to leave the districts the same, it was because there were no concerns articulated,” said Rules Chair Brenda Priestly-Jackson in a committee back in March.

Other Council members like Matt Carlucci said the map approach kept “peace in the family.”

It seems that future attempts to keep peace in the family will be tougher if the Yarborough bill becomes law.

“Similar to SB 1142 that was filed last year, SB 1080 adds clarity to the redistricting process, which directly impacts elections across our state,” Yarborough said Wednesday, explaining the bill.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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