Dear Editor,

On Sept. 24, 2019, I spoke to the Gulf County Commission pertaining to their proposed change to the current voting district for Gulf County. During the discussion with the commission the board stated the changes included counting the prisoners at both facilities in the county to equal the population among the five districts.

County attorney, Mr. Jeremy Novak, stated the Board of County Commissioners were following Florida Constitution, Article VIII, s.1(e), which states each of the five districts be equal in population. Mr. Novak also stated the Board had also followed section 124.01, Florida Statutes, which requires that the Board must reexamine and redraw county districts based on population figures after each decennial census in odd numbered years.

The last census was in 2010. On Aug. 1, 2001, the Attorney General of Florida sent a letter (AGO 2001-55) to the Gulf County attorney, Mr. Timothy J. McFarland, referencing the above requirements for counting prisoners.

I provided Mr. Sandy Quinn, Chairman, Gulf County Board of Commissioners, and Mr. Novak a copy of the 86-page summary judgment (Case # 4:15cv131-MW/CAS) on April 16, 2016, pertaining to “prison gerrymandering” (using prison population to determine voting districts) in the State of Florida. This case was heard by the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, Judge Mark Walker presiding.

In Judge Walker’s Summary Judgment his ruling stated the previously referenced laws above violated the “one person, one vote” principle articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth Amendment of the U.S Constitution. The counting of prisoners to determine voting districts dilutes and disenfranchises the voters in those voting districts. The decision removes the census total population count (aliens and prisoners who can’t vote).

As usual, I was only given three minutes to speak on the subject, and no commissioner voted to extend my time. This is what the Board of County Commissioners does when they do not want to hear what citizens have to say.

I wanted to recommend postponing the re-districting until the 2020 census (current census data is nine years old, 2010). The Board did not take into consideration the number of citizens that have left Gulf County due to last year’s hurricane. The data to re-draw district lines is outdated.

Tom Semmes

District 2, Concerned Citizen