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Sarasota Commissioners Approve Controversial Redistricting Plan

Redistricting map for Districts 1-5 in Sarasota County.
Sarasota County
Sarasota redistricting map

Sarasota County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to move forward with a plan to redistrict local elections on a map that was drawn up by a former head of the local Republican Party.  But a legal response may be  on the horizon.

The plan was created after Sarasota County voters adopted single-member districts last year. Under the new system, only voters who live in a district can cast a ballot in that race, instead of all voters countywide. Commissioners argued that single-member districts made it essential to balance out population in each new district.

But it also split the historically black Newtown community in half, and some people say this will dilute the black vote. Zac Anderson, political editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, says the plan might end up in the courts.

"The NAACP has been threatening legal action. There's a wealthy developer in this area, Hugh Culverhouse, who has said that he might be interested in financing a civil rights lawsuit, because he has expressed concerns about minorities being disenfranchised. One of the commissioners mentioned that he thought the Democratic Party and the ACLU might be party to a lawsuit," he said.

Anderson said changing from single-member districts would change the county's political equation.

"Sarasota County in general leans Republican to a pretty significant degree. But some of these districts - one of them now has more Democrats than Republicans. And another one is less Republican-leaning than the county as a whole," Anderson said. "So it changed things politically. And so commissioners basically said, well, with this new system, we really need to go back and look at our districts to make sure that the population is even in all of these districts, because under the old at large system, it didn't really matter."

The other big issue is who drew up the maps. Anderson did some digging, and found that former GOP leader Bob Waechter had submitted the redistricting maps.

"So it's pretty controversial when it came out that this guy who was the GOP operative," Anderson said, "who had been arrested for a politically motivated crime was behind this map."


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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