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Florida Voters Pass Milestone Measures to End Gerrymandering

4 years ago
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Almost obscured by Florida's high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, voters passed two amendments to the state's constitution Tuesday intended to radically limit the ability of the Republican-controlled legislature and governor's mansion to gerrymander state and congressional districts.
The measures, which barely crossed the required 60-percent threshold, mandate that: "No apportionment plan or individual district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." At the same time, redistricting should not have the "result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process." The districts must also be contiguous and compact.
Previously, state law required only that districts share a common boundary, or be contiguous.
The wording of the measures is crystal clear; the problem, as some have pointed out, is there is no enforcement mechanism, and redistricting is historically a tricky business. The party in power tends to find ways to draw voting districts to its advantage.
Still, passage was seen as a major victory for the measures' proponents.
"I really think that it has something to do with the mood of the people who are tired of the hyper-partisanship that they're seeing in politics today," Ellen Freidin, campaign chairwoman of FairDistrictsFlorida.org, the group leading the push for the amendments, told the Associated Press. "Those who voted for them . . . recognized that they didn't want politicians to continue choosing their voters and rigging districts for their own political gain."
The redistricting vote was "probably the only silver lining for Democrats" coming out of Election Day, said Aubrey Jewett, professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. Democrats should be able to expect – or argue in any future court challenges to future redistricting plans – that new districts accurately reflect the state's party registration. There are 4.6 million registered Democrats, 4.04 million Republicans and 2.2 million independents.
With Republicans in overwhelming control of both houses of the legislature, as well as the governor's mansion, the GOP would otherwise have carte blanche to design new congressional districts. Based on the 2010 census, Florida is expected to pick up two additional congressional seats in 2012, for a total of 27 seats. The post-election line-up in January will be 19 Republicans and six Democrats.
But, while half a dozen other states have independent commissions to ensure nonpartisan redistricting, Jewett cautioned that nonpartisan redistricting is "definitely against legislative DNA," and that those in power may adhere to the letter rather than the spirit of the ballot measures.
Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, agrees.
"One would assume that given the complete Republican control of the governorship and the legislature, any kind of new restraints imposed by the voters would make it more difficult for the GOP mapmakers to maximize their advantage," Brown said. "When drawing a map, it is always easier to add to seats than to subtract seats, because you are adding jobs, not subtracting," Brown said.
Drawing legislative boundaries to favor ruling parties is historical, dating back to England, when underpopulated constituencies were called "rotten boroughs." In the early years of the American republic, Massachusetts' Gov. (and later U.S. Vice President) Elbridge Gerry gave his name to a district shaped like a salamander – Gerrymander. In the years since, the U.S. Supreme Court has given state legislatures free reign, as long as the districts they draw are roughly equal in population and are not designed to dilute the representation of racial or ethnic minorities.
The Florida amendments were backed by most of the state's newspapers and groups like the League of Women Voters. Some Cuban-American Republican and African-American Democratic incumbent members of Congress opposed the measures, charging it would reduce the number of majority-minority districts, which tend to be concentrated in urban areas.
The language of the two ballot measures sound like standard-issue good government fare, an idealistic throwback to the Progressive Era. But the problem is, no one knows how they are likely to be implemented.
"It's not going to achieve its desired effect," predicted Terri Susan Fine, of the University of Central Florida. In the end, "it's going to be handled by the courts and it's bound to haphazard, on a case-by-case basis."
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5 Comments

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EARL

This is a hoot. The districts we have now were drawn by Democrats, and conservatives still win most of them.I say we just draw a line down the center of the state and then horizontal lines based on population for our districts.No favoritism there. Let the hanging chads fall where they may. Maybe, just maybe, we can run Alcee Hastings out of his 90% minority district then.

November 04 2010 at 12:46 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jocelynfanger

Mr. Pinsky needs to do a better job of researching before publishing an article. This topic is more complicated than he suggests.—Florida’s post-1990-Census redistricting maps for both the US House and the Florida Legislature were court-drawn and intentionally concentrated minority voters into minority-majority districts. The unavoidable side effect of this action was to dilute Democratic strength in the other districts, thereby electing several more Republicans than would have occurred otherwise. It was the courts, not elected officials, that mandated this action.--Florida’s post-2000-Census redistricting maps had to be approved by the courts under the same rules.--Mr. Pinsky fails to point out the inherent conflict within the text of the amendments themselves, which require minority representation and, at the same time, forbid favoring or disfavoring a political party or incumbent. The fact is that you cannot do both. . . .Hence the lawsuit, filed yesterday morning or early afternoon--which Mr. Pinsky did not mention in his article which was posted late last night (ET)—by two US Representatives from Florida challenging the newly-passed Amendment Six.—Again, all biases aside, this article was very poorly researched.

November 04 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jocelynfanger's comment
EARL

As usual, what the liberals can't get from the voter they try in the courts.I voted against 5 and 6. This may turn out much worse than SEIU,NAACP,other unions and a half dozen other "victim pimp" organizers think for their perpetual victims.

November 04 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Why is that when you read this you get the idea the author is liberal. He needs to recheck his facts. This was done because of what was done in large city. This was not a concern about republicans. Write the facts.

November 04 2010 at 9:53 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
barnaclebill100

The writer of this report begins with an unsubstantiated attack on republicans. "Almost obscured by Florida's high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, voters passed two amendments to the state's constitution Tuesday intended to radically limit the ability of the Republican-controlled legislature and governor's mansion to gerrymander state and congressional districts." Meanwhile the only substantiated objections to fair redistricting were uttered by democrats. "Some Cuban-American Republican and African-American Democratic incumbent members of Congress opposed the measures, charging it would reduce the number of majority-minority districts, which tend to be concentrated in urban areas." Wake up! these DEMOCRATIC minorities who had unfairly favorable districting which encapsulated their supporters were the REASON for this amendment.

November 03 2010 at 11:32 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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