August 20, 2014

Government

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.

Amy Keller | 3/1/2010
For reform
For Reform

The Common Sense Factor

Districts simply ought to make sense in terms of existing geographic and political boundaries. Case in point, St. Lucie County, where knowing where to vote in a given election can be tricky since the county is split up among three Senate seats. Most of the county is in state Senate District 28, but its northwest corner lies within Senate District 17. Meanwhile, a small fingerlike sliver is part of Senate District 26, which also includes parts of three other counties.

St. Lucie County elections supervisor Gertrude Walker says that split creates confusion for voters. Dozens of voters were turned away from the polls last summer, in fact, because they didn't realize that they didn't live in the district where a special election was occurring.

Rep. Kathy Castor
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor represents the 11th Congressional District, whose lines take a number of twists.

One particularly asymmetrical district is U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's Democrat-packed 11th District, which snakes through downtown Tampa, leaps south across Tampa Bay to south St. Petersburg and then jumps back over the Bay again to take in parts of Bradenton and Palmetto. Another eyebrow-raiser is the 16th Congressional District seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (below).

As former Florida comptroller Bob Milligan, one of the co-chairs of Fair Districts, recently told the Capitol News Service, these districts just don't pass the common sense test: "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."


Congressional District 16

Rep. Tom Rooney’s
district is 88% white.
Rep. Tom Rooney


Against reform
Against Reform

Geography Isn't Fair, Either

Using natural or geographic boundaries to draw political lines will produce districts that are just as "unfair" as those that are politically drawn — because like-minded people often cluster in geographic areas. Research by University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen and Stanford University professor Jonathan Rodden suggests that even without partisan gerrymandering, Republicans would win about 59% of the seats in Florida. "Urban districts tend to be homogeneous and Democratic while suburban and rural districts tend to be moderately Republican," Chen and Rodden conclude. "Thus in Florida and other states where Democrats are highly concentrated in cities, the seemingly apolitical practice of requiring compact, contiguous districts will produce systematic pro-Republican electoral bias."

Urban Areas Could Lose Clout

Politically drawn districts frequently result in an urban area having several representatives who can combine forces on behalf of the community. A geographically drawn district might look "fairer" but could concentrate the bulk of an urban area's population into fewer districts, reducing its clout in the Legislature or Congress.

Change Would Be Costly

At a time when fund raising already dominates a politician's time to an unseemly level, creating more competitive districts will only ratchet up the pressure to maintain well-funded campaign war chests. Potential candidates without financial means would be discouraged; special interests with deep pockets for campaign contributions would become even more powerful.

Meanwhile, redistricting is already litigated more in the United States than any other country, and the proposed amendments will just produce even more lawsuits. "State courts will have to look at whether they're compact or contiguous. Do they keep counties or cities intact? It's just going to allow the state court system, particularly the Supreme Court in Florida, to have a much larger role in redistricting," says Kevin Hill, an associate professor of political science at Florida International University who has served as a redistricting consultant and expert witness for the Florida House of Representatives.

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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