Fort Pierce adopts redistricting map following ACLU challenges

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FORT PIERCE — The city has finalized a new redistricting map, despite red flags being waved by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida over the past three weeks.

The City Commission on Monday, in a 4-1 vote, decided to lay new lines along Virginia Avenue to South 13th Street, then north to Georgia Avenue and east to to US 1.

Commissioner Arnold Gaines cast the only opposing vote. He preferred the other recommendation from Tallahassee-based consultant Kurt Spitzer and Associates.

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The new map moves some people from District 2 to District 1.

The ACLU, however, recommended moving fewer voters from District 2 to District 1 and suggested that District 1 be bordered by Georgia Avenue, Birch Street, Nebraska Avenue and 13th Street, or move the area bounded by Georgia Avenue, 10th Street, Ohio Avenue and US 1 in District 1.

Foremost among the ACLU’s concerns are data discrepancies.

He alleges the city consultant – who has been paid $22,000 over the past six months – overstated the city’s total population by about 100, overstated the total white population by more than 2,600 and understated the total black population of more than 1,000, according to an April 15 letter sent to the city.

Need new lines

Federal law requires the city to redraw its commission boundaries every 10 years.

The need for a new map is further driven by the fact that the population of District 2, which spans parts of Hutchinson Island and southern Fort Pierce, is several thousand people larger than that of district 1, mainly the northwest sector of the city.

This is something the ACLU and the consultant agree on – a difference that goes well beyond the legal limit.

Unlike other cities, like Port St. Lucie where council members are elected at-large, Fort Pierce has had single-member city commission districts for nearly three decades — following a term from the court which is still in force.

In 1993, the black community, represented by the ACLU and Florida Rural Legal Services, claimed that general elections in the city violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution.

And they won.

ACLU challenges Fort Pierce

The consultants maintain there is nothing wrong with their data despite not following Justice Department guidelines as the ACLU has.

The guidelines – which are not legally binding – state that racial minorities should be counted as one race or in combination with another race.

Non-Hispanic white alone is the preferred category for counting white residents, according to the guidelines.

The consultant, however, only included people who identified solely as white, black or “other” in their estimates.

Either way, that’s not a problem, according to Spitzer.

“We’ve done a number of these projects around Florida, but none of them, none, have ever been challenged because we’re only using one breed data,” he said. at TCPalm.

Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at [email protected], 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey.

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