July 23, 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

Eliminate Undue Party Influence

Supporters of "fair" redistricting believe districts should produce political representation that reflects voter registration patterns. Democrats have a nearly 700,000-voter advantage over Republicans in Florida, but Republicans control the Florida Senate 26-14 and maintain a 76-44 advantage over Democrats in the House.

Seth McKee
Seth McKee, assistant professor of political science at the University of South Florida, says redrawing districts won’t make politicians more responsive.
Sam Hirsch, a legal expert on the subject who now works for the Justice Department, has written that "an effective partisan gerrymander can consistently deliver at least two-thirds of a state's seats to the party that the drew the map, even if its candidates no longer capture a plurality of the vote statewide." Redistricting reform wouldn't propel Florida Democrats into the majority in 2012. But it would allow them to challenge the GOP's redistricting plans in state court and improve their chances in years to come. "You could run Santa Claus in some of these districts, and he would lose because he'd be of the wrong political party. It doesn't matter — it only matters what political party you are, and that's a shame," Florida state Sen. Dave Aronberg (D) says in the soon-to-be released documentary film on the topic called "Gerrymandering."


Senate District 27

State Sen. Dave Aronberg "You could run Santa Claus in some of these districts, and he would lose because he'd be of the wrong political party," says state Sen. Dave Aronberg.

‘Gerrymandering':
The word first appeared in the Boston Gazette in 1812 after Massachusetts electoral boundaries were redrawn under Gov. Elbridge Gerry. Portrait painter Gilbert Stuart drew eyes, claws and wings on the outline of one district — designed to favor the Democratic-Republican Party — because it looked like a salamander. The word is a combination of salamander and Gerry.


Against reform
Against Reform

What About Minority Districts?

Gerrymandering isn't intrinsically evil: It's not only legal, but in some cases required by federal law. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Florida and several other (mostly Southern) states are required to draw lines that create safe districts for black and Hispanic politicians, no matter how bizarre the districts may look.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Gerrymand-ering created Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s majority-minority
district.
In Florida, gerrymandering created the "majority-minority" districts that elected U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown (D) in Jacksonville and Mario Diaz-Balart (R) in Miami. Brown believes that requiring the Legislature to follow municipal and county boundaries where possible could come into conflict with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and significantly dilute the voting rights of African-Americans and Hispanics. "A lot of people would like us to have nice, square, cute districts. Well, let me tell you a secret: Florida is not a nice, square, cute state," Brown told state lawmakers at a recent hearing on the issue in Tallahassee.

Clear Majorities Have Virtues

Creating more competitive districts won't make their representatives more responsive. In fact, says Seth McKee, an assistant professor of political science at the University of South Florida, it may be the case that representatives from "safe" districts win re-election consistently because they have a clearer sense of what the majority of their constituents want — and because the voters think they're doing a good job. Representatives in highly competitive districts may actually be less responsive because "they're constantly ‘running scared' of losing their next election," says McKee.

Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, believes that less competition produces a better relationship between voters and their representatives. Data show that people tend to be more satisfied with the government — and their elected representative in Congress — when the candidates they support are elected. In a competitive district with close races, therefore, a higher percentage of voters are dissatisfied with their elected representative and Congress as a whole. Brunell believes it makes more sense to draw lines that "pack" districts with as many like-minded partisans as possible because doing so makes for happier constituents.

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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