City expert disputes claim that race was the main factor in how new districts were drawn

MAROON IIIE FIX, the latest map voted on and approved by the city council.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The judge hearing the case over how the city of Jacksonville drew new voting district maps hopes the two sides can come to an agreement with a decision from the court.

“When the Court rules, there’s generally a clear loser and a clear winner. And I think that certainly the citizenry might be better served if an agreement can be reached,” the judge said.

In its most recent legal argument, the city has filed a report written by the expert hired during the summer to redraw the maps.

MORE: Appeals court denies motion to stay judge’s order that struck down redrawn district map

Dr. Doug Johnson has worked for more than 200 communities to make maps of their districts, including the state of Florida.

In his report, Johnson disputes the claim that race was a main factor in how the districts were drawn. Johnson said at no time during my engagement with the city did I use any euphemistic terms as code for racial considerations.

Last month, a judge threw out the recently-drawn city council and school board district map after plaintiffs alleged the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered by race and diminished the voices of Black voters. In the ruling, the judge found there was “a compelling case that race was the predominant factor in the drawing of the Challenged Districts,” and that the shape of the districts was “dictated by race.”

Johnson said he never used the terms “rural” or “urban” as code words for white and black.

Rather, when he was describing an area that was “rural”, he said he referred to areas with less-dense housing patterns and significantly lower population per square mile in comparison to other parts of the city.

He then provided this example: “In fact, I regularly considered and described the riverfront region and the greater Argyle Forest area as urban areas. Neither area is even close to majority-Black. Similarly, the Riverside Historic District is clearly urban and not even close to majority-Black.”

Johnson said political make-up was considered when determining where council borders would be and noted that, “I do not believe that political affiliation is a proxy for race in Jacksonville.”

Then he explained his methodology, writing, “In Jacksonville, 55% of registered Democrats are African American. In addition, only 80% of African Americans registered to vote are registered Democrats, which is below the national levels measured by the Pew Foundation.”

He also takes issue with the data used by the plaintiffs which relied more on information from Miami-Dade and the City of Miami than Jacksonville.

The next hearing is scheduled for next Friday, Dec. 9. At that time Dr. Johnson is expected to appear and will be questioned about this report.

To read the entire response, click here.

The judge has set a Dec. 28 deadline for a new map to be approved, and elections officials have real concerns over the lawsuit and what’s going to happen. That’s because we’ve got anelection coming up in the spring and many be voting and we may not know what district we’re actually in. And that’s what has to be decided soon.

The Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP and others have filed their objections to the city’s remedial maps and proposed three maps of their own, designated P1, P2 and P3 (see below).

Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in this case, had plenty to say about Johnson.

“They got this guy from out of state, they’re paying him big bucks to lie for them. That’s what they are paying this man for. Dr. Johnson is the city’s puppet clear and simple,” Frazier said. “And they are in fact, paying him to dance. And Dr. Johnson is dancing all the way to the bank. He knows nothing about Myrtle Avenue. Nothing about Moncrief. And I would venture to guess by reading his declaration that the clear indication is that he doesn’t know jack about Jacksonville either.”

He also said that the city council “has failed to cure the gerrymander, as directed by the judge. They have failed to do what the judge asked them to do. All they’re doing is marching back and trying to confuse people with this baloney.”

The plaintiffs say maps P1 and P2 better follow major geographical boundaries and create districts that are “compact and contiguous so that people of the city are adequately represented.”

As for map P3, the plaintiffs say, it “cures the most egregious violations, by not stripping Black residents from District 14 and not packing them into other districts.”

The plaintiffs argue the judge should reject the city’s remedial map and choose one of the alternatives until there is a final order in the case.

P1 (Court records)
P2 (Court records)
P3 (Court records)

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.