Escambia County is beginning the process of redrawing its voting districts, and it appears there’s a fight brewing over where the west side of the county belongs.
During a County Commission Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday morning on the topic of redistricting, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh said the Perdido Key area that is currently in District 2 should instead be moved to be under his district.
“I’ve met with (school board member) Kevin Adams, and also with our counterpart on ECUA, Vicki Campbell, and we have a couple of ideas that we’d like to look at,” Bergosh said. “One of which, where we’d like to start out when we look is the year 2000 map of District 1.”
Bergosh said there were “political decisions” made by former Commissioner W.D. Childers when the district was redrawn in 2001 that removed the Perdido Key and Innerarity Point areas from District 1.
Bergosh proposed using the map that was in place for the 2000 election as a starting point for his district and seeing what changes need to be made based on the current census.
Not all commissioners seemed on board with the idea Tuesday.
“We’re going to shove it in reverse and then try to go forward,” Commission Chairman Robert Bender said.
District 1 currently covers the west side of the county south of Interstate 10 and includes Beulah, Bellview and areas around Perdido Bay as far south at the Perdido Bay Golf Club.
In the past, District 1 once included Perdido Key and much of the current District 2 area, including the Gulf Beach Highway area and the Beach Haven and Navy Point neighborhoods, according to the maps in place from 1993-2001 published in News Journal archives.
In that same time period, District 2 included the downtown waterfront, the Warrington areas east of Navy Boulevard, much of Myrtle Grove and Mayfair, all of which still remain in District 2. But in the past, the district also stretched north to include the Marcus Pointe area, which is now in District 1.
Bergosh told the News Journal that the 2000 map was only a starting point to see what makes sense compared to the 2020 numbers, with the idea to make District 1 a contiguous area that covers the southwestern border of the county.
Meanwhile, District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill said Tuesday he believes his district should be redrawn to give the Mayfair area to District 3 and have his district absorb other parts of District 1 south of U.S. 98.
“There’s now the northern part of the west side and the southern part of the west side,” Underhill said. “They are distinctly different. I think that any argument moving us backward to a time when the west side was very unpopulated would just simply not stand up to intellectual scrutiny.”
Escambia County is set to hold a joint meeting with the school board Oct. 5 to discuss a redistricting plan. Both the county and school board have the power to set their own voting districts, but both have tried to make their districts align as closely as possible to avoid voter confusion.
The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority uses the County Commission districts for its board members.
Bergosh told the News Journal on Tuesday afternoon that while Underhill was not running again, his proposal would unseat ECUA District 1 Board Member Vicki Campbell as she lives in an area that Underhill wants to become part of District 2.
“He’d be unseating a member of the ECUA, which I’m not going to stand for,” Bergosh said.
Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford presented the demographic breakdowns of each current district under the 2020 census on Tuesday.
Stafford said he recommended starting the redistricting process based on the current maps and then making changes to the districts to get them as close as possible to evenly split among the population.
Bergosh pushed back against Underhill, during the meeting saying that he’s heard from several constituents in the Innerarity and Perdido areas that wanted to be part of District 1.
“We’ll see who has the votes,” Bergosh said. “The objective here is to balance this map, not to do political machinations and bring political parties in. It’s to represent people and balance the map.”
District 1 School Board Member Kevin Adams told the News Journal that he supported Bergosh’s position and thought that District 1 should go back to being a western boundary district.
“As growth keeps going in District 1, you’re going to see us drift back to the west,” Adams said.
Adams said it may be tough to reach a consensus between the 10 elected officials — five on the County Commission and five on the school board — between now and the end of the year.
“The devil’s in the details,” Adams said. “…There’s nothing by law that says we have to get this done by Jan. 1. So if it becomes too big of a mess, I wouldn’t mind punting it to ’23.”
Three school board members, including Adams, are up for election in 2022.
After the 1990 census, Escambia County didn’t redraw its district boundaries until 1993.
Under the 2020 census, if all five districts were split evenly, each district would have a population of 64,381.
Stafford stressed that he was not an attorney but said that the goal should be to have each district either 5% above or 5% below the ideal number of 64,381 to avoid having the districts challenged in court.
Currently, District 1 is the most oversized based on population and must lose 3,777 residents to other districts to reach the ideal number 64,381 — a change of 5.87%.
District 2 is the most undersized and must gain 3,270 residents to reach 64,381 — a change of 5.08%.
District 3 needs to gain 4.75%, District 4 needs to lose 0.94% and District 5 needs to lose 3.05%.
“You only really have right now, as your starting point, two that are outside that 10% spread,” Stafford said, referring to Districts 1 and 2.
Escambia County must also apply past court rulings to provide for minority representation. District 3 has been that district and under the current boundaries, the demographics of the voting-age population are 44.37% white and 44.76% Black.
Stafford’s office also reported that if people of voting age who marked two or more races and indicated one of those races is Black are included, the number of voting-age Black residents rises to 46.46%.
The other four districts remain predominately white among the voting-age population with District 1 at 68.35% white, District 2 at 68.83% white, District 4 at 77.10% white and District 5 at 76.28% white.
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.