ORLANDO — The city’s Redistricting Advisory Board, charged with proposing new districts for Orlando’s six city commissioners, will present a final plan to the City Council on Monday.
In the meantime, though, the board is facing questions about whether the plan undercuts the voting strength of the city’s African American community by proposing two new council districts that have low voter participation rates.
Every 10 years, the city must redraw the lines of the six city council districts to reflect population shifts over the past decade. According to the 2010 Census count, Orlando’s population is now at 238,916 residents, and each of the six districts should have a population of 39,819 people.
Currently, Orlando residents are represented in District 1 by Commissioner Phil Diamond, in District 2 by Commissioner Tony Ortiz, in District 3 by Commissioner Robert F. Stuart, in District 4 by Commissioner Patty Sheehan, in District 5 by Commissioner Daisy W. Lynum, and in District 6 by Commissioner Samuel B. Ings.
Districts 5 and 6 are minority-majority districts. When the Redistricting Advisory Board held its final meeting on Monday at City Hall, there were concerns raised by community activists that the new lines for both districts could undercut the strength of African-American voters in the future.
Doug Head, an Orlando Democratic party activist, said he’s looked at the new lines in Districts 5 and 6, and found that the percentage of African American voters in both districts will shrink under the new plan, while the percentage of black voters who have a history of going to the polls also decreases. Head said that sets up the likelihood that minority candidates will have a harder time getting elected in those districts in the future.
“I am profoundly concerned about the voting age decline in districts 5 and 6,” he said.
Community activist David Rucker took a similar view, noting that the new districts appear to dilute rather than strengthen minority voting.
“I’m a little disappointed about the percentage of blacks in District 6 going down,” he said. “We need to probably look at that.”
Wayne Rich, the chairman of the Redistricting Advisory Board, said there was a limited amount of options for the board members, since those two districts did not grow in population as quickly as other parts of the city.
He said the best solution would be to recruit more residents of those districts to register to vote.
“I looked at that, also, and one of the things I would suggest is an active voter registration drive,” he said. “But we had to deal with the cards we were dealt.”
The Redistricting Advisory Board was not only charged with the task of creating new lines for the city’s six council districts, but also to follow certain guidelines, including creating compact districts, ensuring they do not draw lines solely to favor one political party over another, and keeping neighborhoods intact.
Rich said he felt the board had accomplished that goal, and even the activists said they felt the board has been fair overall.
“I’d like to commend all of you, and it was a pleasure to work with you,” Rucker said.
Assistant City Attorney Kyle Shephard said the plan for the new districts would be delivered to the City Council on Monday.
“The heavy lifting has been completed,” he said, adding that City Hall’s graphics department was “putting it into a nice glossy report that will look nice and pretty for you.”
The plan would be submitted to the City Council, and also made available to the general public, he added.
“The purpose of this report is for lay persons who have not been as involved in this process to be able to sit down and read it,” Shephard said.
Rich will give the City Council a power point presentation on the new proposed district lines at 10 a.m. Monday in the City Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall, during a workshop meeting. The council is not expected to vote on it at that time, Shephard said.
“The workshop will not be enough time for the City Council to take action on this plan,” he said. “It’s just to provide them with an overview.”
The council will hold a public hearing on the new districts on Oct. 17, Shephard said, and then will have to take a vote to amend the city charter before the new lines can be implemented. That vote is expected to be made at the City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 31, when the council will vote on the final adoption of the new districts.
As for the Redistricting Advisory Board, Shephard noted that their work was done, and they could disband.
“Once you complete your work, which is at your final meeting tonight, then you automatically disssolve yourself,” he said.
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