Redistricting: Free-for-All in Florida
Here's what to expect during the 2012 Legislative redistricting process.
Florida's Constitution says the Legislature must redraw the state's congressional and legislative district boundaries every 10 years, based on the most recent Census. The 2012 redistricting officially begins now, with new mapping tools for the public and an always-political spin. Here's what to expect this time around.
As always, the line-drawing will be ultra-politicized.
[Illustration: Roger Chouinard]
Predictably, the GOP, now dominant in both the state House and Senate, will attempt to structure the congressional and legislative districts to preserve as many safe seats for Republicans as it can. This year, because so much of Florida's population growth over the decade was Hispanic, leaders from the Hispanic community will try to land better representation in Washington and Tallahassee, particularly along the Interstate 4 corridor. Meanwhile, counties in southwest Florida already are speculating that they'll snag additional representation because of higher-than-average population growth over the past decade. "The interest groups will be out en masse, political interest groups and local groups that don't want to see their cities and counties divided," says Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "And then you'll still have one little county drawn 70 different ways for 70 different reasons."
On top of the usual party politics, redrawing will be further complicated by the fair districts constitutional amendments that voters passed last fall.
Gov. Rick Scott withdrew his predecessor's request for federal review of the amendments, which could delay redistricting. The amendments require districts to be compact and to use existing political and geographic boundaries — while prohibiting boundaries that favor any incumbent or political party and also preserving minority representation.
Reconciling the fair districts amendments' geographic goals with their social and political goals presents a challenge that some view as impossible. "You have the confounding intersect of race and party," says Susan MacManus, distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida. "It's practically a formula for lawsuits."
The process will produce strange political bedfellows.
During the last redistricting in 2002, African-American state legislators eager to preserve majority-minority districts horse-traded with Republicans angling to create as many safe districts for the GOP as possible. The day after voters passed the fair districts amendments last year, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose district is 50% black, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican newly elected to a 70% Hispanic district in Miami, made common cause and filed a lawsuit challenging the amendments' constitutionality.
Technology will be more important than ever before.
Florida's elections supervisors have been working for several years on a precinct project focused on goals such as keeping subdivisions together and keeping neighbors on the same street voting together. That and other new, highly local data such as Bing maps enable the line drawers to create district maps accurate literally to the household level. The technology should "dramatically reduce the number of times that a community is split," says J. Alex Kelly, staff director of Florida's House Redistricting Committee.
In addition, everybody can play: For the first time, Floridians will be able to use web-based software to propose their own boundaries and submit them for consideration. Citizens could use the state's redistricting technology in 2002, but it was clunky, and they had to redraw the entire peninsula for their plan to be considered. This time around, local groups will be able to propose changes for their own region, counties or neighborhoods. (To try it, click on http://floridaredistricting.cloudapp.net.)