Fair Districts?

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A mere five years ago, Florida voters approved the Fair District constitutional amendments, presumably because they were tired of the partisanship shown by both parties over decades of legislators drawing maps to benefit themselves. It’s really pretty simple. If they’re the ones given a free hand to draw district maps, then they can control who is in their district, essentially picking their voters rather than the other way around. They drew district lines to create the maximum number of districts that favored their party. It’s called gerrymandering. And they did it, over and over.

A quick look at the number of registered voters in the state shows a mismatch between the number of seats held by the ruling party and the number of registered voters of that party. Drawing district lines is all about numbers and the Florida ones look a little funny.

While our governor worries about virtually non-existent “voter fraud,” the Florida Legislature was busy doing its best to rig the system to protect incumbents. That sounds like a much bigger case of voter fraud than some grandma who is registered to vote in Ohio and Florida.

Let’s look at the voter numbers. Of all the registered voters in the state of Florida, 38% of them are registered Democrats; 35% Republicans; 27% Other. Going back to 1972 and possibly beyond, but that’s as far as the State Division of Elections data goes, there have been more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida. Interesting.

Yet, the Florida Legislature is predominantly Republican. Overwhelmingly Republican. In the Senate, 65% of the seats are held by Republicans; 35% by Democrats. In the House, Republicans hold 67.5%; Democrats 32.5%. Historically the House went Republican in 1996; the Senate in 1992.

Those “Other” registered voters surely play a part in this, but it’s hard to imagine that they all routinely vote one way. Most undeclared party voters remain that way, in spite of closed primaries, write in candidates and all the other election machinations in our fair state, because they see themselves as independent. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to imagine that a large number of independent voters would consistently vote for one party or another.

The more likely answer in Florida, as it is in so many other states, is redistricting. The party in power controls the voting districts and by manipulating those numbers, they can assure that their party is given every edge possible – the equivalent of the fox guarding the henhouse. This is not a Republican issue because when Democrats have been in power, they’ve done the same thing.

And that leads us to 2010 when over 63% of voters said, “Enough!” They demanded fair districts drawn without benefitting any incumbent or party. And the legislators laughed. At least it seemed as if they did, because they certainly didn’t pay any attention to those amendments, as witnessed by their repeated losses in court.

The proof? After the 2010 census, they were required to draw three district maps. One for federal Congressional districts; one for the Florida Senate and one for the Florida House.

Somehow the Florida House managed to draw a map that did not draw a lawsuit. But two of those three maps have been rejected by the courts. Legislators have been sent back to redraw them, and failed, miserably and expensively. The tally is now around $9 million in legal costs and $1 million in special session costs. That would be our money.

They whined, they cried. The Supreme Court has no right to tell them to redraw the maps. The maps are a return to slavery and apartheid. The amendments are impossible, we can’t draw maps to meet their criteria.

Here’s where they are now:

U.S. Congressional Districts – The Legislature has made three failed attempts to draw district lines. Lawsuits filed by several groups forced the legislature to face the courts and in July the Supreme Court ruled that Republican operatives had “tainted” the process. A Circuit Court Judge, tasked with the decision, recommended a map drawn by one of the lawsuit’s challengers. On Tuesday the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments as to whether they should accept the Circuit judge’s map or another one. The court will have the final say in setting congressional districts in time for the 2016 elections. But that may not be the end of it as two members of Congress are threatening to take their case to protect their districts to the United States Supreme Court.

Florida Senate Districts – After losing their court battle on congressional maps, the Legislature threw in the towel and agreed to end the lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and other voting rights groups and redraw the maps. In a Tallahassee deja vu, that special session ended in failure, leaving the trial judge to pick a map to recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Bottom line, one of the most important jobs the legislature is given, redistricting, is beyond their abilities. They just cannot see beyond their political self interests to do what’s right for the people of Florida, the ones who elect them – the ones they supposedly serve.

One thing is sure, in the 2016 election, the state will see some new district boundaries for Florida senate and U.S. Congressional seats. We’d do well to elect some new representatives that can see beyond their own arrogant self-interests.

Missy Layfield