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Voting rights advocates sue to block Jacksonville redistricting plan

 The Jacksonville City Council approved the redistricting maps by a 17-1 vote.
Claire Heddles
The Jacksonville City Council approved the redistricting maps by a 17-1 vote.

Jacksonville residents and voting rights organizations are asking a federal judge to block new maps for City Council and School Board from going into effect in 2023.

The request for an injunction, filed Friday, alleges that the maps dilute the influence of Black voters citywide by packing a majority into four of the city's 14 districts. The lawsuit calls the plan an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The maps, which received almost exclusively negative feedback during public redistricting hearings, were signed by Mayor Lenny Curry in March. The City Council made little to no changes in response to the community backlash, with a University of North Florida poll finding that 89% of Jacksonville residents didn't trust the council to draw their own districts.

The city has defended the maps, which they say sought to preserve current districts as they've been historically drawn, factoring in changes made in the 2010 redistricting.

According the plaintiffs in the case, that's precisely the problem.

Matletha Bennette, senior staff attorney at the voting rights practice group for the Southern Poverty Law Center and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, says the issue stretches back decades, to previous maps weakening the voting power of Black residents.

"It denies them equal opportunity to advocate for funding for their communities, such as their schools or their roads," Bennette said. "It's been done for so long it has now become a historic deprivation of the rights and the representation of those communities."

The city is expected to file a response to the suit in August, with both parties meeting in a hearing before a federal judge in September to determine whether the injunction will be issued to stop the maps from being used in the 2023 City Council races.

Regardless of the outcome, the maps will not affect upcoming elections this fall.

Copyright 2022 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Raymon Troncoso
Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity.
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