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Gerrymandering the Leon County Commission (Florida)


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With the redistricting process finished in most of the states in the U.S., I wanted to look at redistricting at more of a local level.  Redistricting doesn’t just apply to the federal and state legislative districts.  It also applies to School Board seats and County Commission Seats, which must redraw the lines to the respond to the population shifts within the respective jurisdiction.  So, when deciding to look at redistricting at the local level, I saw no better place than to look at the County Commission lines within my county of residence, Leon.

Leon County, Florida

Leon County is the capital county of the state of Florida, housing the city of Tallahassee, and that’s it.  The political jurisdiction of the area boils down to Tallahassee in the center, where most of the population lives, and the unincorporated zones on the periphery.  The city and the county government’s often are working close together on matters and projects that impact both Tallahassee and unincorporated Leon.  The 5 member city council is all chosen at a city-wide vote, and is all populated by Democrats, no doubt thanks to the strong blue nature of the city, which gave Obama 69% of the vote.  Its worth noting that both city and county seats are non-partisan on the ballot, but the party affiliation of the members is well known.

The city commission is as follows…

  • Andrew Gillum (Democrat, progressive voice, rising star in the state of Florida)
  • Nancy Miller (Democrat, new member to the commission, won and open seat by beating a Republican by 10 points in 2010)
  • Gil Ziffer (Democrat, appointed in 2009, beat back a more conservative Democrat by 15 points in 2010)
  • John Marks (Democrat, Mayor, in his 3rd term, re-elected in 2010 by beating back a tough Republican challenge by 6 points)
  • Mark Mustian (Democrat, retiring this year.  Open seat race is currently 5 Democrats and 1 Republican.  My money is Daniel Parker, a Democrat and a city and urban planner.  I’m actually working on his campaign).

Safe to say the Tallahassee city commission will be staying all blue.  Gillum is up for re-election against two other Democrats, neither of which stand a chance.  One of which is only known because he got into a fight at a local democrats meeting.  He was arrested, but the charges where dropped.  So yeah, Gillum is safe.  And the open seat will go to one of the 5 democrats, but most preferably Daniel Parker.  Who I can vouch for is the best candidate for the job.  Here’s his website, http://www.electparker2012.com/

Ok enough campaigning.. back to the point..

So, what about the Leon County Commission?  This commission is organized a little different.  There are seven total seats.  Two of these seats are elected county-wide.  The entire county gave both Obama and John Kerry around 61% of the vote, and fitting that, both of these members are Democrats.  The other five seats are elected in single-member districts with the county divided into five slots.  Right now there is only one seat that is Republican-friendly, based in the affluent northern suburbs  of the city/county.  The membership of the commission is as follows.

  • Akin Akinyemi (Democrat, at large, elected in 2008 by ousting the Republican incumbent)
  • Nick Maddox (Democrat, at large, election in 2010 by ousting a fellow Democrat incumbent)
  • Bill Proctor (Democrat, district 1, safe majority-black district, all challengers are other Democrats)
  • Jane Sauls (Democrat, district 2, normally unopposed)
  • John Dailey (Democrat, district 3, normally unopposed)
  • Bryan Desloge (Republican, district 4, elected in 2006, unopposed in 2008, unopposed so far for 2012)
  • Kristin Dozier (Democrat, district 5, election 2010 against an incumbent Democrat)

This cycle, districts 2, 4, and Akin’s at-large seat are up.  Both districts 2 and 4 are unopposed as of right now (deadline is June), Akin has 3 challengers, two Democrats and one Republican.

Leon County Democrats are always looking for a way to pick up the last Republican seat in the entire county, Desloge’s district 4 seat.  However, considering the district only gave Obama 46% of the vote, its unlikely Desloge will be in serious trouble.  In addition, Desloge’s moderation and personal likability keeps him fairly safe.  He was smart in 2010 to endorse Democrat Alex Sink for Governor, who ended up taking 69% of the vote in the county, with Republican Rick Scott having no base of support in a county who has a large government employee population.  However, one wonders if the district lines for the commission could be re-drawn to make Desloge’s re-election tougher.  Once I began asking that, it opened up the flood gates to wondering what else I could do with redistricting the commission.

Current Commission Lines

The old lines that where in use for the last 10 years where set up to ensure 4 Democrats and 1 Republican gimme-seat.  The lines make a good deal of sense, its not like politics was the only consideration.  The line divided the Democratic base at the center of the city across four of the districts, allowing the populous Democratic center to over-ride the rural Republican outskirts.

Lets start off looking at the old lines that where in place.

Now, lets look at the new lines passed.

The commission changed very little of its own lines.  Districts 1, 2, and 4 didn’t change at all.  District 5, which was overpopulated, gave up some area to district 3, which was underpopulated.  That’s it!  That was the entirety of the changes.  This means the racial and presidential results didn’t change hardly any for all 5 districts.  The current breakdown by Presidential results for all the districts is as follows.  Look back to the first map for the district numbers.

  • District 1 86% Obama
  • District 2 67% Obama
  • District 3 58% Obama
  • District 4 46% Obama
  • District 5 60% Obama

These statistics make perfect since when looking at the new lines over a precinct-result map for the 2008 election.

zoom in the center where the districts converge

Districts 1, 2, 3, and 5 all take in heavily populated Obama areas, and dilute the sparsely populated rural outskirts.  This ensures these four districts are all safe Democratic seats.  District 4, meanwhile, takes in many Republican suburbs, and not as many Obama precincts.

It’s also worth noting these results would not be much different for the 2004 election.  John Kerry and Barack Obama did roughly the same county wide.  While Obama did better in some suburbs, Kerry did better in rural precincts.  So in Leon County, the Obama results are not to be considered a high water mark, but more a reflection of the likely Dem vote.

So that was the partisan makeup, what is the racial makeup up of the districts?

  • District 1, 33% white, 57% black, 4% hispanic
  • District 2, 58% white, 28% black, 8% hispanic
  • District 3, 67% white, 23% black, 5% hispanic
  • District 4, 80% white, 11% black, 3% hispanic
  • District 5, 69% white, 19% black, 5% hispanic

Largely there is two key racial groups in the county, white and african-american.  There is only a very small hispanic or asian population.

Here is a precinct map based on the registration for the precincts by race.

District one takes in most of the African-American precincts to ensure it is majority black (as mandated by the county due to its 30% overall black population).  District two takes in several African American districts as well to make it a minority-influence district.

So, now that we have seen the breakup of the new commission lines, lets take a look at what sort of shenanigans could have been employed to shift the lines however one wished.

Gerrymandering the Lines

The first natural gerrymander is to create a commission comprised of five democratic seats.  The key there is to re-work the 4th district and have it shed some of the suburbs and take in more Democratic territory.  This was the resulting map.

Look back to the lines that have been passed.  The general idea of the lines remains.  However, I rework a few things.  First, the 3rd district (blue) takes in parts of the suburbs, including Ox Bottom Manor, Summerbroke, Golden Eagle, and Killearn Lakes.  The 4th loses those red precincts and moves further into the center of the county, taking in blue territory.  Finally, I balance the reddening of the 3rd district by having it move further south as well, into some African-American precincts (which make the 1st district go from 57% black to 52%).

Here, a zoom in show the convergence at the center.

This zoom shows the forth and third moving much further south than under the current plans.  The central hub of Democratic voters is split between all 5 districts (while the 4th used to be left out of this).

The partisan results are as follows…

  • District 1 — 84% Obama
  • District 2 — 62% Obama
  • District 3 — 57% Obama
  • District 4 — 54% Obama
  • District 5 — 59% Obama
So there you have it, a full Democratic map.  You could make the map even more Democratic.  You could even make them all 60% Obama, but that would require breaking up the African-American community, which besides being unfair, would not be allowed by court mandate.
However, you could pack in the African-American community to make it just 50%, and make the districts a little more Democratic.
Besides the blue district, which is the 50% black district (and in the high 70s for Obama support), the other districts are all around 57% Obama.  This makes them all likely Democratic, but in a very red year could cause several turnovers, albeit unlikely.


So there, we have two different Democratic maps.  What if we went the opposite way?  How about a Republican gerrymander of the lines?   If by some method, Republicans had the chance to draw the lines, how much could they do to shift the districts in their favor?  Well, the best they could do would be two lean-republican seats.  Simply put, the county is too democratic to do any better than that.  Only 12 of the 176 precincts from 2008 gave Obama less than 40% of the vote.    So the only real rout for Republicans is to pack Democrats into three of the seats, and allow the periphery  to dominated two of the seats.  The results are below.

The blue, green, and yellow districts work to pack as many Democrats in as possible, making them overwhelmingly Democratic.  The red and light blue districts split the periphery in half, and split up some of the Republican suburbs in the northern zone.  Both districts round out to being exactly 47.6% Obama.  This is really the best Republicans could do.  Even under this gerrymander, only two of the five seats are Republican.  There just aren’t enough Republicans to create a third seat.

So we’ve seen what could happen partisan-wise.  Now, what if we wanted to create two, rather than one, African-American seats?  It is possible.  There is still the mandate that at least one seat be 50% African-American.  By working the lines very carefully, you can create a district that’s 50% black, and another thats 47% black, 43% white.

The light blue district is 50%, and the green district is 47%.   Those two districts, along with the yellow one are all very Democratic.  However, this scenario means there will be a Republican district, which is the red one (46% Obama).  I had to carefully weave the blue district around to make it up to 53% Obama.  That itself took some effort, the zoom in shows how the district had to carefully weave itself along, eating up democratic areas to get it to 53%.

The blue district basically had to weave its way along I-10 at different points.  Kinda reminds me of districts based in Chicago.

Now, lets say the court mandate for a majority-black district didn’t exist, and a bunch of white nationalists suddenly had control of the redistricting process, and wished to totally dilute the black population.  This map cracks (splits up) the population over several districts to dilute its support.  The best result for any district is 30% African-America, but most are well into the 20% levels.

This map would of course never survive a court challenge, even without the current mandate.

There is one other map I wanted to make.  As a graduate student, I had an interest in creating a district that consolidated as much of the student vote as possible.  There are three campuses in Leon County, Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College, and Florida A&M University.  The student living is largely around those campuses.  So I created a district that packed in as many college-heavy precincts as possible.  The result is below… the light green in the center is the student district.

The student district takes in all three campuses and the housing around them.  Its a very safe 81% Obama district that is 40% black, 46% white, 8% hispanic, and 3% asian.  This means there is now majority-black district, so this map couldn’t last under court scrutiny.  But its interesting none the less.  All districts voted for Obama, but the yellow only gave 55%, and the light blue only gave 51%.


Anyway, so those are some of the different ways you can gerrymander Leon County’s commission seats.  This was just a fun little side project of mine.  It shows that redistricting doesn’t just effect those legislative seats, which garner all the news attention, but can also effect local level elections.  And never forget, many of these local elections are the kick-off for future big time politicians.  So the redistricting at the local level can have just as big an impact on politics as anything else.  Something to think about.


1 Comment

  1. Annette Odom says:

    Thank you Matthew, for all your work. FDP needs to hire you. Redistricting is difficult for some of us to fully grasp much less help fix. Your efforts help. You have my admiration.

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