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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Residents Say Fla. County Gerrymandered

(CN) - Officials in a north Florida county included the population of a state prison in their recently adopted electoral districting plan to dilute the political strength of actual county residents, aggrieved voters claim in a lawsuit.

In complaint filed in the Tallahassee, Fla. Federal Court, residents of Jefferson County claim 2013 redistricting plan promulgated by the Board of County Commissioners and the local school board, is nothing short of a "prison-based gerrymandering" that violates their 14th Amendment rights to equal representation.

The plaintiffs, four individuals and an community-based civil rights group called Concerned United People, claim that by included the inmate population at Jefferson Correctional Institution in Monticello, Fla. in one of the county's election districts, dilutes the voting strength of residents living in the other four districts.

They also contend the majority of prisoners in the correctional institution are incarcerated on felony convictions and therefore cannot vote, cannot attend public schools or patronize businesses in the county.

Under the 2013 redistricting plan, the prison population constitutes a full 37.73 percent of the people who make up District 3, and 43.2 percent of the voting age population in the district.

The plaintiffs say the result is that every four actual residents of District 3 have as much political influence in county and school affairs as seven residents in any other district.

Consequently, the voting strength of persons residing in District 3 is artificially inflated and the voting strength of persons residing in all of the other districts is weakened, in violation of the 14th Amendment's "one person, one vote" principle, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the districting plan null and void, and to replace it with a plan that protects the rights of all the voters in the county.

They are represented by Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Foundation of Florida in Miami.

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