Party Lines in Redistricting Florida
Some want to take politics out of the process of drawing legislative and congressional voting districts. There are good reasons to change -- and good reasons to leave things alone.
Once every 10 years, following the national Census, the Florida Legislature redraws congressional and legislative district boundaries to reflect population shifts. The results of the 2010 Census are likely to produce one additional congressional seat for Florida; lawmakers will carve out that seat and redistrict the state legislative seats in 2012.
[Illustrations and maps: Christopher Sheek]
Meanwhile, an effort is under way to force the lawmakers to change the way they draw the lines.
Redistricting is done today using sophisticated computer programs with detailed population and voter registration data. The party that is in power controls the process — and typically draws districts to concentrate its votes, maximize the number of seats it holds and keep its incumbents in power.
The result is a political map that's a collection of oddly shaped districts sprawling across all manner of geographical and governmental boundaries (county and city lines, for example).
A group called Fair Districts Florida — founded by Miami attorney Ellen Freiden and backed by a bipartisan group that includes former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham and Republican attorney Thom Rumberger — has garnered enough signatures to place two constitutional amendments on the 2010 ballot (one for legislative districts and one for congressional districts).
The proposed amendments would prohibit drawing district lines that favor any incumbent or political party. And they would require districts to be compact and drawn in a way that doesn't deny minorities an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
Sounds good, but there are good arguments on both sides of the proposition.
"All you need to do now is flash up a map of the districts in Florida and any objective citizen would look at it and say it's crazy."
— Bob Milligan, co-chair of Fair Districts Florida