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Redistricting: Free-for-All in Florida

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.

Redistricting in Florida
[Illustration: Roger Chouinard]
Redistricting is so political that members of Congress hire their own lobbyists who glue themselves to the committee meetings in Tallahassee and scrutinize every proposed boundary adjustment.

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.

Brown
Brown
Diaz-Balart
Diaz-Balart

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.)

> Redistricting will inevitably end up in court.

Redistricting in Florida
[Illustration: Roger Chouinard]
Final boundaries have been subject to lawsuits each cycle for the past 30 years, and this year will be no exception — particularly with the fair districts amendments in play. In addition to the predictable legal battle, districts involving five counties — Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe — also will have to earn special approval from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Most people assume Florida's so-called pre-clearance counties have roots in historically disenfranchised African-American voters, as they do in the rest of the South. But Florida's scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act is about compliance for Hispanics, the state's largest minority group. Hillsborough County, for example, "has a Hispanic population so dispersed that the crafting of minority-majority districts for the population in the county is impossible at present," say civil rights scholars Charles Bullock and Ronald Gaddie in their 2009 book "The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South."

> Uncertainty over the boundaries is likely to favor incumbents.

With final rulings on the newly drawn districts' constitutionality not expected until shortly before the June 2012 qualifying deadline, some potential candidates may not know their district's boundaries in time to decide whether to mount a campaign.

> Voices of Experience

Peter Wallace
Peter Wallace

"The technology has gotten so finely tuned that it is absolutely possible to draw fair districts, but so finely tuned that legislators also have the tools to do things they're not supposed to do. Every time a plan is drawn, the incumbent runs through a geographically microscopic political performance of the district. Somebody's going to have to look these incumbents in the eye and say, 'This is not about you, and it's not for you. We have standards that need to be followed.' "

— St. Petersburg attorney Peter Wallace, a former Democratic House Speaker who was chairman of the House reapportionment committee in 1992

Sandra Murman
Sandra Murman
"You really have to take a macro, regional look at things. It's not your district. It's not what happens in your county. It's got to be a much bigger-picture approach. When you take away and add to your county, you affect every other county in Florida. Yes, it's partisan; yes, it's political. But you've got to try to get beyond that and keep the voters in mind and do what's right."

— Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, Republican former state representative who was vice chair of congressional redistricting in 2002

DRAWING THE LINES: KEY PLAYERS

Don Gaetz
Senate Redistricting Committee chairman

Will Weatherford
House Redistricting Committee chairman

John Guthrie
Senate Reapportionment Committee staff director

J. Alex Kelly
House Redistricting staff director

Don Gaetz
Don Gaetz

> BY THE NUMBERS

18,801,310 — Florida's population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The state is edging closer to being the third largest state in the country, trailing New York by fewer than 1 million residents.

27 —?New number of Florida congressional districts, up from 25. Both Florida and New York will have 27 representatives in Congress — and both will have 29 Electoral College votes, increasing Florida's importance in presidential elections through 2020.

Redistricting in Florida
[Illustration: Roger Chouinard]
696,345 — Number of people in each congressional district. The federal courts have interpreted the one-man, one-vote provisions of the Voting Rights Act so strictly that Florida lawmakers must create each district with almost precisely that number of people —?each district is supposed to have no more than one person over or under that population.

470,033 and 156,678 — Florida's state Senate and House districts must be redrawn with a respective 470,033 and 156,678 total population in each. The state has a bit more leeway than one over or under but must try to get as close as possible to avoid legal challenges. The last time around, the House districts came within 2.5% of the total and the Senate districts within 0.5%.

> Timeline: Redistricting 2012

? MARCH 2011 ?

Florida releases beta versions of its new, web-based redistricting software, MyDistrictBuilder, to give lawmakers and citizens time to test and learn the program.

? JUNE 2011 ?

Florida releases final version of redistricting web application.

? JULY - OCTOBER 2011 ?

State House and Senate redistricting committees hold public meetings around Florida to gather citizen testimony.

? JANUARY 2012 ?

The legislative session will begin early to accommodate the redistricting process. Ideally, the session and redistricting will wrap up March 9, 2012.

? MARCH - JUNE 2012 ?

The Florida Supreme Court and U.S. Department of Justice review Florida's redistricting plans for compliance.

? JUNE 18 - 22, 2012 ?

Qualifying week for state and federal elections in Florida.