Friday, October 5, 2007

Redistricting Reform

In 2010, the new U.S. Census numbers come out. Those numbers will serve as the basis for redrawing the electoral districts in Florida - a process that will begin in 2012. It's not, or at least shouldn't be, a partisan issue. Back when the Democrats were the majority in the Florida Legislature, the lines were drawn to preserve their seats. For the last Census, the Republicans drew the lines to preserve their seats. Those seats belong to the people, not the politicians.

Having a fair redistricting process is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, so I was happy to see that the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause are attempting another ballot initiative to bring it about even if, as Bill Cotterell self-proclaimed Capital Curmudgeon at the Tallahassee Democrat says Redistricting reform is noble but doomed. is a political committee that wants a couple of constitutional amendments mandating that, when redistricting Congress and the state Legislature, politicians will pause and ask themselves, "Hey, how would we do this if people mattered?" A couple of years ago, reformers tried to take redistricting away from the Legislature and give it to an independent commission of nonpartisan wise people, but the Supreme Court would have none of that.

So this time, the idea is simply to provide that districts "may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries."

The odds are stacked against it. Here are the steps it has to go through:

  • submit language to Division of Elections for approval

  • collect over 600,000 signatures - which will likely be challenged

  • get 60% of the vote

According to an earlier St. Pete Times article, the proposal would be put on the ballot in 2010.

Leaders of the effort include chairwoman Ellen Freidin, a Democratic lawyer in Miami who served on the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission and Republican former Comptroller Bob Milligan and Democratic former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Unlike 2006, when advocates proposed creating a supposedly nonpartisan commission to draw districts, this time Common Cause is merely trying to mandate that lawmakers draw compact districts without trying to help or hurt any political party. Separate ballot questions would cover legislative districts and congressional districts.

Critics say gerrymandered districts are why incumbents so rarely lose re-election and make members of Congress and the Legislature less accountable to voters.

"Really what is lacking in the Constitution is the ability for anyone to challenge these redistricting plans that get passed," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida.

I applaud the effort. In the meantime, another way to try to ensure that the districts are draw more fairly is to get more Democrats elected to the state legislature so that both parties, Republican and Democrat, have a seat at the table.

Note: doesn't have a website up yet, but the group has registered the domain name.